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Title: Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Durr, Virginia Foster, interviewee
Interview conducted by Thrasher, Sue
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Kristin Shaffer
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 488 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2008.
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The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-01-18, Kristin Shaffer finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0023-3)
Author: Sue Thrasher
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0023-3)
Author: Virginia Foster Durr
Description: 1280 Mb
Description: 134 p.
Note: Interview conducted on October 16, 1975, by Sue Thrasher; recorded in Wetumpka, Alabama.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series G. Southern Women, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975.
Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Durr, Virginia Foster, interviewee


Interview Participants

    VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR, interviewee
    SUE THRASHER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, we . . . I told you why we went to Washington, and that's all on the tape. And we got to Washington in the early summer of 1933 and Cliff had already gone up ahead, you see, and was staying with Sister and Hugo. And they had a house out in Northeast Washington, a very nice house. We only had one child then, you know, Lula, I mean Ann. And she was about six years old. So we stayed with the Blacks, oh I suppose a week or two, until we got an apartment close by them in one of those great big apartments on Wisconsin Avenue. We got a furnished apartment. And I began looking around for a house, a place to live. Cliff was making during the Depression time, seemed a pretty good salary—I think it was 6500 dollars a month. We thought that was—during the Depression— was a pretty good salary. And I didn't want to live in Washington. I wanted to live out in the country, [unknown] , or somewhere in the suburbs anyway, on account of Lula, I mean on account of Ann. They get furious because I get them mixed up. I call Ann Lula and Lula Ann. Living in this apartment was just awful because I was about twelve stories up and she would ride the elevator all the time. It she were down stairs I'd be frightened to death and so I was in a constant state of, you know, chasing her up and down, and going back and forth, and getting her, and worried to death about her. Sister was extremely nice to me. She was the one that, you know, took me out to the first party I described when I met Mrs. Roosevelt. She took me to all the things she went to, down to the Senate and the Congress. And I could leave Lula, leave Ann with—she had an old cook, or maid, named Mary Marble, who had worked for my mother. So I would just leave Lula down at the Blacks with Mary. But I was really anxious to get out in the country. And I had gone to Junior League Convention in Philadelphia. At that time I was Vice President of the Junior League of Birmingham, and

Page 2
I had met a very nice girl named Ann Green, I can't remember her middle name—Ann something Green. She was from Virginia, lived in Washington—a very nice, attractive girl. She was asking me where I was going to live when I got to Washington, and I said, well, I tell you, I just want to live sort of, the suburbs, out in the country, where people are nice and genteel but not very rich. Because I don't want to live in a very expensive neighborhood. And she laughed and said, well you described Seminary Hill. She said everybody out there is poor and genteel, which I thought was . . . well, I really took her seriously because I went back to Washington and began to look for a place to live and get out of this great big apartment. I called up a real estate agent and I said I'd like to go out and live in Seminary Hill, and she said, oh, my heavens, she said, there're never any houses to rent on Seminary Hill except in the summer. The professors go away for the summer and they rent their houses sometimes. But she said, I'll call up, but, very, very chancy business. So she did call up the Seminary and found that there was a house for rent which belonged to the Zabrisky's. He at that time—that's Zabriskie—he at that time was one of the professors at the Seminary, and he came from New York. He had a lovely wife named Mary Zabriskie, and they had this perfectly beautiful old house that was built in a kind of octagon shape, if you know what I mean, surrounded by oak trees. It was very nicely, beautifully, furnished. So I went out there and immediately rented that house, I think, for $75 a month, a furnished house—but that was just for the summer, you see. We moved out there and I had brought up with me from Alabama a nurse for my baby, you know, Ann. Her name was Celeste. She'd been a nurse for Ann for a long time. She was a very pretty black girl who had been married, a disastrous marriage, and she was glad to get away from Birmingham, because she was having trouble with her husband.
SUE THRASHER:
Did she have any children?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No. She was a thin little thing. She was the niece of the sister of my nurse who was named Alice, the one who I told you

Page 3
about so much, that brought me up. And Alice's sister, who was named Mary, was the wash woman for the house, the whole household. And it was her niece who got the job of being nurse for my baby, Ann. After Ann was born I had two severe miscarriages. So Celeste was the sweetest kind of person, and I was very fond of her, but we hadn't been there very long when she got lonesome and wanted to go back. She didn't like the people in Washington, and she was lonesome and didn't know anybody and didn't know the right church to go to. So she left, after just a little while.
So here I was in this beautiful old house in Virginia. And my husband was gone all the time. He'd go to work in the morning. He'd come home for a hurried dinner, and then he'd go back and work. He'd come back at two or three in the morning. They were trying to save the banks, you see. The telephone would ring in the night. He was waked up by people calling from every point of the compass saying if we don't get the money—you see he was with the RFC who was trying to save the banks—if you don't get the money here by tommrrow I'll commit suicide, and we'll all be ruined. You know he was working as hard as a man could possibly work. He couldn't work any harder. But the trouble was that sometimes they did commit suicide. That was the awful part about it, was that this desparate voice that would be calling all night . . . And they were working as hard as they could, but some of them did commit suicide.
SUE THRASHER:
Were these calls from all over the country?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
All over the country.
SUE THRASHER:
Banks?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Banks, people in the banks. See, they'd set up this big deposit insurance to save the banks. The banks were all closed after Roosevelt was elected. You couldn't get any money out of them at all. And so the government was putting money into the

Page 4
banks, trying to save the banks. They built up a big organization and they worked day and night, Saturday and Sunday. It was a real crisis. So I didn't see much . . .
SUE THRASHER:
Cliff was gone all the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Cliff was gone almost all the time.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you know very much about the work? Did he come home and talk about what was going on?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
If he wasn't too tired. He'd usually come home and go to sleep. He was in such a state of exhaustion all the time. It was like putting your finger in the dike. They were afraid the whole country was going to bankruptcy. It was the strangest kind of time. One funny experience we had which I thought was amusing because it was so unlike Cliff. Cliff, you know, was such a model of being a gentleman, having such good manners and very rarely did he show any irritation or anger or resentment against anybody. The head of the biggest bank in Birmingham, Alabama, where we had just come from, came up, and his bank was in bad trouble. So he thought he was an awful big shot and he went directly to Mr. Jesse Jones, who was head of the RFC, and wanted Mr. Jesse to handle his problem immediately. And Mr. Jones says, you'll have to go down and see Mr. Clifford Durr, who is head of the general counsel for the bank reorganization division. And so the man said, his name was Mr. Wells, he was a rather pompous man, had been very rich and very powerful because he'd been head of the biggest bank in Birmingham. And we had known him, but only slightly. And so he said to Mr. Jesse Jones, Oh, Mr. Jones, I couldn't deal with an underling like that, why that's just a local boy from Birmingham. You know, I want to deal with the big shot, in fact I think he thought Mr. Jesse Jones ought to get busy and draw up the papers himself. He said, well, if you don't deal with Clifford Durr, you just don't deal with anybody, because he happens to be the one, the lawyer, that's drawing up

Page 5
all these papers. So Mr. Jesse Jones called Cliff and said, Cliff, there's a man on the way to see you from Birmingham, named Mr. Wells. And he says he doesn't want to deal with you because you're just a local boy from Birmingham. And he said, you have to keep him waiting for a while. So Cliff did keep him waiting, I think an hour, sitting in there cooling his heels. But it was so unlike Cliff to do anything like that. Mr. Wells had been so arrogant, so scornful of having to deal with just a local boy.
SUE THRASHER:
Mr. Jones apparently had a lot of respect for Cliff.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, yes, he thought Cliff . . . he had a tremendous amount of respect for Cliff, and Cliff liked him very much. I never did like him at all. I mean personally we just . . . ugh (?) He was a great big overpowering Texas man. He told nasty jokes. You know that kind of dirty jokes I feel like are so offensive to women, that make women the butt of . . . And he'd tell them . . . I just couldn't stand him infact. I never did like him. He had a poor, pitiful little wife who looked like she wore black dresses and knitted black shawls. She was the most pathetic little creature I've ever seen.
SUE THRASHER:
Did he tell jokes on her?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he told jokes in front of her. But they were all sex jokes. I thought they were extremely bad taste and vulgar. I didn't like Mr. Jones at all, I mean just as a personal thing.
But anyway, that summer I made friends on the Hill and the Dean of the Seminary was there. I was so fond of him. He was staying there. He was a widower. And his niece kept house for him, and she was so nice. There were a lot of people around the Hill that were very nice.
SUE THRASHER:
You're talking about Seminary Hill now?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Seminary Hill. It's right outside of Alexandria. It's where

Page 6
the Episcopal high school is and the Virginia Episcopal Seminary. It was a real neighborhood if you know what I mean. The roads weren't very good even out of Alexandria.
There was a paved road from Alexandria to Washington, but from Alexandria out to Seminary Hill was just a gravel road. And they had a bus that ran twice a day. It was isolated, but it was a real neighborhood. Virginia, you know, has got marvelous manners—the people in Virginia have the most beautiful manners in the world, I think. Everybody called. They were the days when people called.
SUE THRASHER:
You mean called to visit, not call on the telephone?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, they came to visit in the afternoons. You were supposed to be prepared for visitors in the afternoons and have iced tea ready and cookies and have on a light dress and be prepared to receive visitors. I could write a whole book about visitors from Seminary Hill because some of them were just absolutely incredible.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, tell us about them.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well. There was one old gentleman . . . The trouble is it was so long ago now that I'll have to look up my notes to think of the names and maybe I'd better not tell the names anyway. One day, night, we would take a walk . . . You've never seen Seminary Hill but it's just a perfectly beautiful place with the old brick buildings of the Seminary, the brick buildings to the Virginia Episcopal high school, and this is where the gentility of Virginia had gone for generations. They never would refer to it as . . . They would say "The High School," "The Seminary," and "The University." That meant the Virginia Episcopal High School, the Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary, and the University of Virginia. But nobody ever said that. They would say, "The High School," "The Seminary," and "The University." And you were supposed to know what that was. So we would take a walk after supper at

Page 7
night and just walk around if Cliff was there. And even if Cliff wasn't there, Ann and I would take a little walk after supper in the grove and people would be strolling in the grove. One night we heard a conversation going on, it sounded like a very one-sided conversation. And we came up on Mr. Jim . . . The names will come back to me eventually. I'll just have to look back at all these various names. But they had an old house up there on Seminary Hill that they'd lived on for generations. He was talking to the trees. So we stopped and spoke to him, and he was extremely courteous and told us his name and where he lived and he said that he came out every night to talk to his trees, his friends the trees. Nobody regarded him as insane. They just said he was a little queer. Mr. Jim was just queer and he liked to talk to the trees and he'd come out every night and chat with them. He had favorite trees that he talked to. And you were just supposed to take this as a matter of course.
Nobody was even, you know . . . Then there was another very odd, another couple had rented a house. They lived in Alexandria, but they'd come up to the Seminary to get out of the city, which was Alexandria, you see.. I don't suppose it's all so long ago. Their names were Herbert, and they were great aristocrats from Virginia, and in some way they were related to the Fairfaxes who had settled Virginia. It had been discovered that the Fairfax who lived in Virginia was the last Lord Fairfax. He'd gone back and claimed his patrimony. So he had taken Mr. Herbert, who was a bachelor, with him—he was a great friend of him—and for years he had lived there in England and been part of the British aristocracy. Lord Fairfax didn't have much money, but he did have the title, and maybe a castle. Anyway, Mr. Herbert had lived over there in England for many years with Lord Fairfax and then either Lord Fairfax fell on hard times or he did. He came back and was living with his three old-maid sisters, who had rented a house for the summer right across the road from where we were at the

Page 8
Labriskie's. They were very nice ladies that were very Virginian. And talked in that beautiful way, if you like the Virginia accent . . . "garden" and "Carter" you know. Everybody was so nice to us, you see. I look back on it now. They were so polite and sweet to us. So they would invite you to dinner, and they were just marvelous cooks, absolutely tremendously good cooks, but they didn't believe in eating cooked food. They all believed that you should only eat raw food. So they would offer you these delicious means of broiled chicken, you know, and puffed pastry and biscuits and corn pudding that was two feet high and they'd say, I hope you'll eat this, but I want you to understand that while you're eating it you're killing yourself. This is the kind of food that kills people. And they would be eating things like herb tea and bananas. Everything raw.
SUE THRASHER:
But they would fix all of this for their guests.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They would fix this for their guests, really wonderful food, the most wonderful cooks, or they had a cook, I think. But they would be telling you the same time about the fact that it was all going to kill you. It was absolutely deadly cooked food . . . But, you see, nobody thought they were odd either; they were just taken as a matter of fact, too, they were [unknown] everybody just accepted the fact that they thought. . . .They would tell you these terrible tales about old cousin Annie who came to visit them and she was eighty-nine years old and she still seemed to be healthy. But you know that woman is killing herself. We took her out and do you know what she had for dinner? She ordered and ate a dead lobster. She was 89 years old and she was killing herself because she ordered and ate a dead lobster. But you know it was all taken for granted, if you know what I mean. Well, one of the reasons that people were so nice to us was that they had "placed" us, as they say in Virginia, or in the South. And the way they had placed us was this. We had no Virginia connection, and if you told them that your family had come from

Page 9
Virginia way back in 1797 or even 18 . . . My grandfather came down during the Revolutionary War from South Boston. But if you told anybody in Virginia who was a native and lived there all their lives, and their ancestors, that you came from Virginia, they always rather looked down on you because you moved away, and they couldn't imagine anybody ever leaving Virginia unless the sheriff was after them or some scandal had erupted because Virginia, you know, is a beautiful State. The old families who clustered around Seminary Hill and the Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary, they knew everybody.
Well, the reason what we were accepted to the degree that we were, and we really were accepted, was because the Dean of the Seminary had been a Dr. Crawford, and he had had two, several, beautiful daughters. One of them particularly beautiful name Alice Crawford. And she came down to Birmingham as the wife of an Episcopal minister. And my mother and she were friendly and I had known her, so they vouched for us, if you know what I mean. They had come back to Virginia and he was teaching in a Episcopal school somewhere in Virginia. His name was Randolph. And they were the bluest blood of the bluest blood of Virginia. And they had known my mother, and Mrs. Randolph was one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen. I have seen many pretty women, but she was an absolute beauty. She had perfect features, masses of black hair. You very rarely see black hair that's wavy and curly and very shiney. And then she had lovely white skin and slender figure. She had been proposed to, we always understood, by every millionaire in the country, but she married Dr. Randolph, who was an Episcopal minister with whom she fell in love. She was a devoted wife to him because we got to know them quite well. He finally . . . He was the head of this Episcopal school somewhere in South Virginia, and he failed the son of the Bishop or he failed the son of some big contributor or he failed the sons of some very prominent people in the Episcopal Church. He wouldn't pass them. And there was a great to-do

Page 10
about it because he'd just fail them or expel them if they didn't do right. And so they told him that he was losing money for the school and losing money for the Episcopal Church, irritating the Board of Trustees. You know, he was a man of total integrity and honesty and so he kept on failing them. So they fired him. So he came up and lived in the little house next to us after we'd bought a house on Seminary Hill. And during the War he got a job in the torpedo factory. He'd go off in the mornings with a bucket, you know, a lunch basket in his hands. But I'm trying to give you a flavor of Seminary Hill. And Mrs. Randolph, who was this great beauty and who had been admired by all and . . . she would come out and empty the garbage. And I never will forget—she always wore gloves and always looked like, you know, her hair was fixed, beautifully dressed. She stuck by her husband very loyally. And Dr. Randolph was one of the loveliest men I ever knew, I've ever known. There is a strain in Virginia among all the Virginians that I met. There are lot of Virginians that I didn't like at all. But there is a strain in Virginia of men of integrity, you know, like Cliff, who're going to do right in spite of hell and high water. And he was one of them. And he did it in such a matter of fact way, if you know what I mean. And I would like to add that after the War was over and he got a job as the director of the church in Rome, Italy. And Mrs. Randolph went with him. And as I understand their latter years were, you know, they were very comfortable, and happy, in Rome, Italy. But she was, they were lovely people.
But I was trying to contrast some of the odd people. There was a lovely old man over at the Virginia Episcopal High School that, Mr. Reid, he was an Englishman. And I was devoted to him, and I would go over real often in the afternoons and have tea with him, because, being English, he made delicious tea and he loved to have people drop in for tea. And when the war started he was very concerned because of course we weren't in it yet—that was when the Second World War started— So I said to him one day, Mr. Reid,

Page 11
goodness, they were bombing England, you know, and he was terribly disturbed about his relatives. And he was a man then in his eighties, nearly eighty. And I said, I declare, what do you think is the cause of all the trouble in the world. He said it was very simple, it was on account of the gasoline engine. He said as soon as we got away from horses the world began to go to hell. Well, he was absolutely convinced that everything was due to the gasoline engine. And, you know, he had rather old-fashioned ideas, and that's what he stuck to. All on account of the gasoline engine. But, you see, coming from Birmingham, which had been such a bustling place where everybody was striving to get ahead and get money, you know, and give big parties and impress people. The people in Virginia were so sure that they were the absolute top of the heap; they never doubted it, you know. If they were poor, they were still absolutely Virginian. And the atmosphere I'm trying to create was of people who were genteel, extremely genteel, and not rich, but beautiful manners and absolutely secure in the knowledge that they were Virginian. That nobody in the world could look down on a Virginian. They were just at the top of the heap.
And I remember there was a woman that I went to see one time, whom somebody in Birmingham had asked me to go see, who was a cousin. This was Tinsley Harrison's relatives, you don't know who he is, you know the great doctor. Well, this is his mother asked me to go see the cousin. So I went there, and my heavens, here was this handsome woman with all this brood of handsome children. The windows were out, and it all looked like it was just a wreck. Some of the windows were out, and her poor old mother, or something, was huddling over a little wire. And she greeted me with perfect grace. So when I came back on a visit, I told Mrs. Harrison about her cousin and what a desperate time she was having. And she said that was on account of the fact that her grandfather'd been a gambler, or maybe it was her father, anyway she laid it all to the fact that there was a streak of gambling in the family and they'd lost alll their money. She said, you

Page 12
know, this cousin of mine has all the family silver—came from Virginia—and if she's in such a desperate condition—it must be worth several thousand dollars—when you go back, you ask her if I can buy the silver from her. Because that will give her . . . And they really were in a bad fix. So I went out there one cold, after Christmas, cold as it could be, and their house was freezing, and the old lady was crouched over the fire. They never had but the panes in the windows, you know they had wood in the windows. And I told the lady as nice as I could that her cousin in Alabama, Mrs. Harrison, would like to buy the family silver. I think Mrs. Harrison's name was Ella. She said, dear Ella wants that silver? Why it had never occurred to me that she'd like that silver. If she feels that way about it, I'll send it to her tomorrow. I said, but she wants to buy it from you. Oh, she said, I couldn't think of selling the family silver. She said, but I'll certainly share it with her, and give it to her if she feels strongly about it. You know, what could you do about that? She was not going to accept any money for the family silver, that was something that was sacred. Well, Virginia was a fascinating place to me because it provided a haven, if you know what I mean.
SUE THRASHER:
From the hubbub of Washington?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
From the hubbub of Washington. You'd go across the river to Seminary Hill and after the Zabriskie's came back, someone died, and we got a house next door. It was a very pleasant house. And we lived on, we finally bought a house. So we lived on Seminary Hill, you see, the whole eighteen years, or nineteen years, we were in Washington. It was a wonderful place for the children because they could range in this great territory, you know, it was so safe. It was a neighborhood. And when our little boy died, I can remember everybody coming over with jelly and custards and cake and casseroles. So on the social side, on the personal side, of pleasant living, it was just delightful, absolutely a

Page 13
lovely, delightful place to live. But they were as far removed from Washington as if they . . . they knew that there was a New Deal in Washington, and they knew that things were changing. . . .
SUE THRASHER:
There weren't a lot of people on the Hill besides yourself who worked in the New Deal?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
None, we were the first ones.
SUE THRASHER:
You were completely in the world of Old Virginia.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
You were completely in the world of Old Virginia. Now they began to move in, you see. Sister and Hugo finally moved, got a house out there, when he got put on the Supreme Court, but that comes later. No, we were the first ones. So we were received into this world of Old Virginia. And as I say, we were guaranteed by this Mrs. Randolph, who had known my mother in Birmingham, and it was a kind of a, you know, a guarantee that we would not create any disturbance, I suppose. But of course, we did. Everything that happened in Washington was such far removed, if you know what I mean.
SUE THRASHER:
So for the first year that you were on Seminary Hill, did you have much to do with Washington?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Not at all. I lived on the Hill. You see we lived in this lovely place, which was the Zabriskie house, which was very large, and we had lots of visitors—people were coming up all the time and staying overnight and having dinner with us.
SUE THRASHER:
People from Alabama?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Uh-huh. And then the family all came up and Cliff's family and some of my family. And of course Sister lived in Washington, too. See Hugo was in the Senate then from Alabama. But I was

Page 14
really more or less cut off from. . . .Sister took me to a lot of the official things, but I wasn't really part of it, you know, and after I'd done it once, I wasn't so anxious to do it any more because all those Washington receptions, unless you're really part of the group, you're just kind of an outsider looking on. But one thing that I did get freed from was that the ladies at the RFC—there were many people at the RFC whose wives were extremely ambitious and they were very ambitious men and they wanted very much to get into Washington society and get into you know, fashionable society, and they gave parties all the time. Well, lot of the ladies would give these luncheon parties, bridge parties, and tea parties, where you'd go and play bridge and have, you know, lunch at a hotel of . . . uh, those awful peas and half-done chicken lunches, you know. And they were just a horrible bore and, you know, very typical of the time . . . And I had this child and I was wanting to have another child, you see I'd had the two miscarriages. So I finally said to Cliff, I said, look, if your future depends on my going to these luncheons and teas and dinners that I'm invited to, I will but they are the most boring things in the wide world. A lot of strange women that play bridge and I don't know them, you know, I just don't . . . And he said, if my future depends on your playing bridge, I don't have much anyway, cause he said I was the poorest bridge player in the world. You know, bridge was just . . . So he said, he relieved me of that. Then a lot of the men that would come down wanting loans would want to take you out to dinner, you know.
SUE THRASHER:
Well now, was your behavior, your not wanting to go to these luncheons, was that looked upon as being odd by the other . . . ?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I don't know if it was or not. I never did bother about it much, because, the thing was that I, you know, I didn't make any friends in the RFC particularly, except one named Alley, married Jim Alley—he was the head of the division. His father and my father'd been to school together, so there was a family

Page 15
connection there, and he married a beautiful girl named Esther, and I knew her quite well, but she was about the only friend I made in the RFC that I can recollect. But anyway, I was just relieved by Cliff from the awful burden, you know, of going to these boring lunches and teas. So then the first year we had this house on Seminary Hill and so my life was just encompassed really by Seminary Hill, and I really liked the people tremendously. They were . . . and I joined the Episcopal Church. Ann started going to this Episcopal Sunday School, and I'd go to the Ladies, they had a Ladies Auxiliary that met for tea every week. I went to that. I just loved it. It was a tremendous rest for me, you know. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you find that society in Virginia similar to the Alabama aristocracy?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, you see, the Virginia society was so different from Birmingham. You see, Birmingham had a few people who were aristocrats, I mean they claimed that they hadn't done their washing, as my mother says, in several generations. They were freed of that. But the Virginia aristocracy, or the Virginia gentility, was much . . . I can't tell you because there was no competition. You know, they were just sure of themselves. They knew that if they were kin to the Randolphs or the Crawfords or the Patricks or the Jeffersons or the Washingtons . . . And my father would come to visit us quite often. I told you the story he told the Virginia ladies that shocked them so terribly. My father would come to visit us quite often and the ladies would have teas in the afternoon, all the ladies on the Seminary Hill, very pleasant, you know. Sit out in the garden if it was warm, then in the winter by a fire and have . . . And it was pleasant, you know, so I'd take Daddy with me, and he'd love to go. They'd always invite him because Daddy was very chatty, you know, and always made himself very pleasant. But he went to one Mrs. Walker's

Page 16
one afternoon when all the Seminary ladies were there. And he began to tell how he was from Virginia, and his family had come from South Boston and Virginia, you know. He was met with the usual sort of cool acceptance of the fact that you had left although you had left Virginia. So, I don't know whether he got irritated or whether he got, thought he was going to be funny. So he said, this conversation reminds me of a joke, they were talking about whether the Fairfaxes were kin to the Washingtons or the Washingtons were kin to the Randolphs or the Randolphs were kin to the, you know, so on and on. And Daddy said, out of the clear blue sky, this reminds me of a story from an old man up in Walker County, that's, you know, one of the roughest counties in Alabama, up here in the coal mining region. Said they were looking for a school, man to teach school, and said that they wrote up to the University of Virginia and the old man could hardly write, he got a tablet and a pencil and wrote up to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and said, Dear Sirs, Beat 8 of certain district in Walker County is looking for a school teacher, and can you recommend a good young man? You know, we'd pay him $800, year basis, free board, whatever. So he got this beautifully written letter back. You know, beautiful handwriting and addressed properly and dear sirs, my name is St. John Randolph Washington Jefferson, or whatever, anyway a very old Virginia name, and on my mother's side I am connected to the Washingtons and on my father's side I'm connected to the Jeffersons and on my grandmother's side I'm connected to the Lees and on my great-grandmother's side I'm connected to the Fairfaxes. He gave them about four pages of his genealogy. And then he ended up by saying that he would like to apply to school teach at the school in Walker County. Well, the writing was very delicate, you know, beautiful, very legible, but very fine. So the school board got together and they read the letter and they figured out, figured out page by page. So they all started answering. And they discussed what

Page 17
to say. So the old man got out his tablet again and wet his pencil and he wrote back, you know, dear sir, University of Virginia, you know. Dear Sir, we have read your letter. N'en mind, you need'n come. We weren't lookin for no man down here for breedin' purposes jus' one to teach school.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
SUE THRASHER:
And this was at the Ladies' Auxiliary?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, this was at the Ladies' Auxiliary, or ladies tea party. Nobody laughed, I can assure you of that. And Daddy was just disgraced. They really didn't think that was funny at all. Because they just spent hours developing these family themes. But they were lovely, sweet people on, you know, a personal level.
SUE THRASHER:
Now your father came from an old Alabama family. It must have not been totally alien for him.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it wasn't, but the point was that they made him feel that being from Alabama was kind of a disgrace. If you weren't from Virginia, you know, you really didn't count. You didn't amount to a hill of beans unless you came from Virginia. Of course you could be away from Virginia temporarily, but to leave Virginia, to have your ancestors pick up and leave Virginia, they always thought there must have been something peculiar about you.
So you see, what I've told you, I've lived in so many different levels. Here, by chance, we got in the middle of the most conservative, sort of genteel community in northern Virginia, where they'd lived there for generations, where the houses . . . You know, the old Mason house was there, you know, the Mason that went with Slidell to England. And so the first year until I got

Page 18
kind of used to Washington, I lived in this completely pleasant, genteel atmosphere and went to tea parties and I was trying to have a baby, that was one of the things. I was very anxious to get pregnant again and I did. And so the first year of so of my life . . . and then Cliff was gone so much, and I always had a servant. After Celeste left, I got somebody from up in Virginia. I always had a servant that lived on the place, you see, that had a room and a bath downstairs, so I wasn't alone. So I was free to go out quite a bit if I wanted to and I, as I've said a thousand times, when I think what I paid them, I feel a little . . . $8 and $10 a week, that was room and board and lodging, but even so that was very small wages. That was the usual wage.
SUE THRASHER:
Did Ann start to school there at the Seminary?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, but Ann was only about three, about four when we went there. No, let's see, she was older than that because we were married in '26 and she was born in '27, and we went to Washington in '33, so she was 6. So she did start to school, oh and that was . . . She started at St. Agnes, that was the Episcopal school. there. I asked the ladies about the . . . of course St. Agnes was the only school they even thought about going to. The public schools, they said you couldn't even think of sending her to a public school because of the nits. All the children there had nits in their hair. And the public schools of Virginia were so bad that nobody went there, no nice person went there, so St. Agnes was the only school that they ever considered.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it like a private school?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, it was a private school. It was run by the Episcopal Church. And we would have a car pool, and I'd pick up the Zabriskie's, or the Zabriskie's would pick up Ann or Margaret or Thompkins or, anyway we would all combine. So I lived my . . .

Page 19
I didn't come to in Washington. . . . I had met Mrs. Roosevelt and admired her very much, but I hadn't really come to in Washington, you know, to take hold of anything. But— Well, we spent the first summer in this lovely old house of the Zabriskie's. When they came back—they had about four children. And they were mostly boys, three boys and one girl. We would take them to school back and forth. And she was a lovely woman too. I never got to be a very dear friend of hers but I was very admiring of her and liked her very much. She was very active in the Seminary, the affairs of the Seminary. Then we had to move off the Hill. See, one professor had died, and they got another one was hired and there was no vacant house to rent, so we rented a house down off the Hill.
And by the greatest luck in the world. Just by another great stroke of luck, my next door neighbor was Stella Landis. Stella Landis came from Mississippi. And she came . . . Did you ever read a book called "So Red the Rose" by Stark Young?
SUE THRASHER:
I remember you talking about it.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was written all about her family and about the plantation and you know that place they all had during the civil rights they had so much trouble down in south Mississippi? What was the name of that place? You know, Bob Zellner got beat up there. Macomb. Well, I think their plantation was near there. Anyway its all written up in a book called "So Red the Rose" by her cousin that was named Stark Young. And her mother's father had been Bishop Galloway, who was the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Mississippi. And Stella had gone to Millsaps College. And she was a tall, thin, I thought, beautiful girl, woman, and by some strange freak of fate, she had come up to Washington to look for a job. She didn't want to stay in Mississippi, and if you ever heard anybody strong against male oppression, she was. She had several brothers and maybe it was the Bishop too, but anyway she just felt the women in Mississippi were just treated, you know. And she wasn't one of the beautiful kind of floating southern belles, you know, She was tall and thin, and near-sighted and like me read a lot. We were sort of similar in a way, you know we were both tall and thin and read a lot and we were near-sighted.

Page 20
But Stella was beautiful. She had lovely sort of fluffy dark hair and great big grey eyes and white skin, and just thought she was absolutely lovely looking. She was married to Jim Landis. And Jim Landis, you know, came from, his people had been missionaries in China, and she came from, she came over here and went to Harvard, I believe. And he was so brilliant, you know. He was a sort of super-genius. And he got to be the Dean of the Harvard Law School at such an early age. And he was a Law Professor at Harvard. He had come down to work in the Securities and Exchange Commisssion. And he was the one that got to be, that worked with Joe Kennedy in the Securities and Exchange Commission. So she lived right next door and she had two little girls just about the age of my daughter, you know, Ann. But her Ann and my Ann were about the same age. And then Ellen came along and then you see Lucy came along. And so the little girls were the same age. And so she and I became absolutely devoted friends and her husband, Jim Landis, had been the law clerk for Justice Brandeis. So Stella loved to go up to the Supreme Court. See that was before Hugo had been put on the Supreme Court. He was still a senator. But Stella loved to go up to the Supreme Court and hear the cases. You know, she lived in this law school atmosphere and she knew a lot of the lawyers. And we would go up to the Supreme Court and Justice Brandeis' messanger, who was a Negro, you know all the messangers of the Supreme Court Justices were Negro men, he was devoted to her. We'd go up to the Supreme Court, you know. You'd go to the clerk's office, or wherever you went, and the messanger would come and usher us to the front seats. We would sit in—Mrs. Brandeis never came—so we would sit in Justice Brandeis' private enclave. You know I loved all that. I was this country girl from Alabama, you know, and I thought that was just lots of fun, you know. All the pomp and the ceremony and being ushered into the seats. And I began to enjoy Washington, you see. But then I also got interested in the law cases because you see all the great New Deal

Page 21
cases were being tried, the NRA case and the AAA case. So I also got very interested in the New Deal, the great cases that were being tried. Then Stella began to take me around with her on Monday afternoon to visit the Supreme Court Justices' wives. You see, the Supreme Court Justices' wives received on Monday. So we went to see Mrs. Brandeis a number of times, because she was crazy about Stella. Mrs. Brandeis was a perfectly marvelously interesting woman. She was perfectly beautiful. She must have been eighty, but she was still absolutely beautiful. She always wore cotton stockings. She said, you girls are very extravagant, I think, to wear silk stockings; I never wear silk stockings, unless it's an evening entertainment. But she was very devoted to Stella, and through Stella I got to know her, you know, as a second-hand relationship. But she was very nice to me. She began to invite Cliff and myself to the afternoon teas she'd have on Sunday afternoon, but that was more on account of Cliff than on account of me. You see, the Justice, Justice Brandeis, was very much interested in everything that went on, and he was particularly interested in all the recapitalization of the banks. And he and Max Loenthal had been very much interested. Max Loenthal was a brilliant man who was a great friend of Justice Brandeis who had helped recapitalize the railroads, I believe. But he was an extremely attractive man. But I've told you about going to Justice Brandeis' for tea, alll the pomp and ceremony. But the point was that it was really through Stella—then of course I got interested in what Cliff was doing—but I just gradually got interested in the New Deal.
SUE THRASHER:
This was sort of in your second year?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
This was in about the second or third year, it was the second year I was in Washington.
SUE THRASHER:
Had you had another child by that time? Had Lucy come by that time?

Page 22
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, it was my son. He was born then.
SUE THRASHER:
He was born about the second year you were in Washington?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was born about the second year I was in Washington. He was a beautiful boy. . . . Stella Landis . . . I began to go out, you know, to go to hearings. She also was interested in hearings. Stella had worked for the Scripts-Howard papers. And she was such a bright, interesting woman, so attractive that old-man Scripts had taken her around the world with him on his yacht. And this was certainly no scandal connected with that; he was about 87 then. But he found her such a delightful companion. And she was, I think, one of the most charming women I ever met in my life. And Cliff got to know Jim pretty well, because they'd go in the car together in the morning, but he never did like Jim much. He said Jim was one of the most cold-blooded, selfish people he'd ever met. He didn't think he was arrogant and cold-blooded in the sense . . . he was unaware, if you know what I mean. I don't mean he was deliberately cold-blooded and selfish; he was just unaware. He was that way with Stella. I remember the little girls went to St. Agnes, too, and when they would have plays or put on something, she would have to beg and beg Jim to come, you know, because they wanted their father to be there. Jim was just unaware. Whatever he did, he did with his entire concentration, you know, his entire mind. And he talked very little, but if you'd go there to dinner, if he drank a great deal, along about 12 o'clock, he'd start talking. And then he'd talk til 4 o'clock in the morning and be just absolutely brilliant. You know, he really was just shy and [unknown]. But by that time, we were just in a state of total exhaustion. He was a difficult husband, And then later, you know, he deserted her, left her. That's a long way into the future. But he was a very difficult husband. I always thought Cliff had a great awareness of character, and he judged people more by character

Page 23
than he did by their accomplishments really sometimes. Often he did, he'd judge them. And he never did really care for Jim very much. But anyway through Stella I did get interested in going up on the Hill to the hearings and I got interested in the New Deal.
And of course through Hugo and Cliff, you know, just being up there, too, being free, able to get away on account of having servants. See, I had a yard man and a wash lady and a nurse and a cook. You know, it just seems impossible to think that here on $6500 you would have . . . I think he finally got raised to $7500 by the end of the first year, but that's the way you lived. By this time I had gotten to be a real New Dealer.
Oh, I thought the New Deal was the most marvelous thing in the world. And I had met Aubrey Williams and Anita. You see, they lived in Arlington not very far from us. And I had met them, and we used to go over there on Sundays.
SUE THRASHER:
Now what did he do in the New Deal at that point?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Harry Hopkins was head of the WPA, and he was the assistant administrator of the WPA and he also got to be head of the NYA. The Williams had all these boys, you know; they had 4 boys, and they lived in Arlington County which was several miles from where we lived, but on the Virginia side. They had an old house. And they'd have these parties on Sunday. Oh, all kinds of people would come out. Anita was a wonderful cook, and a beautiful woman. I don't know if you've ever seen her or not. She's one of the prettiest women I ever saw. She was a real beauty, too, if you know what I mean, had perfect bone structure. And Aubrey was very gracious and funny and hospitable. His boys were attractive, and they'd have a bright fire, delicious food and drink. People would love to gather at the Williams' on Sunday afternoon. I met a lot of the New Dealers through that. And then I remember meeting Helen Gahagan Douglas there for the first time. She was another of the great beauties. She looked like a Greek goddess; she was just gorgeous. She was a sweet person, too, and very nice. Cliff was very admiring of her.

Page 24
SUE THRASHER:
Was she married to Melvin Douglas at the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Uh-huh, yes. Then Pete Seegar I remember meeting there. Well, I'd met Pete first at the Highlander Folk School when he was a boy out of Harvard. Alan Lomax was there. You see the Seeger family lived in Washington.
SUE THRASHER:
Alan Lomax was where? At the Williams or at Highlander Folk School?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I met him at the Williams. I met Pete first at Highlander. But they would bring their guitars there, and that was the beginning of the great folk music.. You see Alan Lomax's father was head of the folk music division of the Library of Congress, and Pete Seeger's father was head of the whole music division of the Library of Congress, I believe, I'm sure he was. Anyway, Pete and Alan were the founders of the folk music revival. Taping hadn't come in then; I don't think they even had electronic taping then. But they would go all over the country. When I first saw Pete, he had acne and a dirty sweatshirt on and a pair of dirty jeans and he'd left Harvard and he was going all over the country with a guitar collecting folk music. I just adored him from the very start. He's another pure character that I never had anything but praise and love for. I think he's a wonderful person. But they would come out to the Williams and play folk music. And then there was another place we got to go. Some beautiful girls rented a house next to us on Seminary Hill, and one of them married Tom Eliot.
SUE THRASHER:
She married Tom Eliot?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Congressman, he was a congressman from Massachusetts. He was the grandson of the president of Harvard. Her name was Lois, heavens she was one of my best friends and I can't remember what her name was before she married. But anyway, there were 7 or 8 of them that rented this house for the summer, and they were very attractive, very pretty girls. They all had jobs in the New Deal in one way or the other. Through them we got to know a lot of the younger kind of New Dealers, like Jim Rowe and Jerry Reilly —and he married one of these girls. There were just all sorts of young men that were coming out to visit these girls. And they would have square dances. There was lots of music there.

Page 25
And then another place that was a sort of center was Tom Corchran, you know who he was. They had what they called the "little red house" where a lot of the young bachelors lived, and they'd have parties. So we began to sort of make friends in the New Deal crowd, if you know what I mean, the ones what were doing things. So I got just absolutely to be a great New Dealer. I thought what they were doing was marvelous.
And I thought the WPA and feeding the starving people . . . And then Clark Foreman appeared on the scene, and he was working in the Interior Department trying to find Negroes jobs. Well I had known him at Harvard, you see, and this was a big change in Clark. When I had known him he'd had no interest in those things at all that I knew of. So through him—you remember Will Alexander?—so I got to know some of the people in the agricultural division.
Anyway I got to know a lot of these people in Washington who were in the New Deal, so I decided I wanted to do something. I had servants; I could leave the children at home for a morning or an afternoon without feeling any sense of great guilt. So I volunteered to be a worker in the women's division of the Democratic National Committee. And I asked Sister and Hugo if they thought that was all right. And they thought that was a good idea. There were two very nice southern girl named May Thompson Evans from North Carolina—she was working in the Women's Division. And then the head of it was named Dorothy McAlister—she came from Milwaukee, and her husband later became a judge, and she was an awfully nice woman. Two or three times a week I'd go down to the Women's Division of the National Democratic Committee, and I was a volunteer; I didn't get paid. And I'd clip newspapers and answer the telephone and do whatever volunteers were supposed to do. But it was lots of fun because Mrs. Roosevelt would come in quite often. There would be all kinds of women coming through. What they were trying to do at that time was to . . . The Women's Division of Democratic National Committee was trying to put into effect what they called the 50-50 plan, which is that all the Democratic

Page 26
Committees would be 50-50, 50 women, 50 men; they would have equal representation.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that considered a radical proposal?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, God, yes. I should say it was. Because in the southern states there was not a single woman on a single Democratic committee. The Democratic National Committeewomen were usually sort of pretty southern women that wore big hats and would sing Dixie.
SUE THRASHER:
Whose idea was this, the 50-50?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Mrs. Roosevelt and there was somebody named Molly—what was her name; she came from New York state—and Dorothy McAlister and May Thompson Evans, all these women that were working in the Women's Division were working on the 50-50 plan. So they were particularly worried about the South because there were no southern women on any Democratic committee, I mean local, city, state, anything. They were just completely outside. So they got particularly worried about the South. So they made quite a study of it. They said that the thing that was wrong was the poll tax. The poll tax in all the southern states, you see, had been put on after the Populist uprising, around 1900, when they disenfranchised the Negroes by the white primary and by the poll tax, but they also disenfranchised the poor whites. You see, no women voted. Women didn't start voting until 1920. Very few women voted because if a man, a poor tenant farmer if he had scraped up a dollar and a half to pay his poll tax, he sure as hell wasn't going to pay a dollar and a half for his wife. And they never had any money. And then in Alabama you know, the poll tax was retroactive. If you started voting when you were forty-five, you had to pay 35 dollars because you had to pay back every year you'd missed.
SUE THRASHER:
Was it retroactive in a lot of other southern states?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was retroactive in Virginia for three years back, but in Alabama it was retroactive from the time you were 21 years old. Now I think the highest proportion of voting was in Texas, which was about 31%, but then it got down to 12% in Mississippi. Now this was the proportion of people who voted of voting age; this wasn't the proportion of population. This was the people who were eligible to vote over 21. So the South was just run by an oligarchy composed of

Page 27
whites, usually middle-aged, gentlemen, or men, some of them were gentlemen and some of them weren't. But in any case Mrs. Roosevelt at that time had a very high voice; you know she had voice lessons and she really squeaked, like Squeaky Fromm. But she had that high, very high-pitched voice. But I just became devoted to her. I thought she was a wonderful woman, just a great person. And the women in the Democratic Division were devoted to her. And old Mrs. Daisy Harriman would sweep in. You don't remember her. She was a great figure in the Democratic Party. She became an ambassador, I think, later to Sweden or Denmark. She was a very handsome woman and gave a lot of parties. She would sweep in. But it was an interesting lot of women, you know, extremely interesting. So I became very fond of them. But now there were no Negroes around. There was absolutely not one single black person around the Democratic National Committee that I ever saw. It was about 1934, I reckon, '35. I was born in 1903, so I was about 30, I suppose. I was a young woman. So we were working quietly along on this 30-30 [sic] thing, and then, I mean the 50-50 thing, and then the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee began the onslaught on the poll tax.. They were saying we had to get rid of the poll tax. They were getting out literature against the poll tax and sending out literature and trying to get somebody on the Hill to introduce a bill, you know, to get rid of the poll tax, and trying to get the States to get rid of the poll tax. And the poll tax got to be a great political issue.
Well, one day I went down as my volunteer to the Democratic National Committee, and everybody looked like there was a death in the family, and it seems that the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jim—the big Irishman who later got to be head of the Coco-Cola Company; he's still alive; he was the campaign manager for Roosevelt—Farley, of course. Jim Farley was a great, big overpowering fellow from New York, you know, big Irishman and very genial and all the men were crazy about him. His wife never did come to Washington. They'd come from very humble origins, and she was very sensitive. She came to Washington one time and gave a party and nobody came or something happened; I never was invited, so I don't remember.

Page 28
I just remember Mrs. Farley never came back to Washington after that any more. And you know the break actually between Farley and Roosevelt came because Mrs. Farley thought Mrs. Roosevelt snubbed her. Mrs. Roosevelt was rather unconscious herself I think at times because I'm sure it never crossed her mind to snub Mrs. Farley, but you know she was such a busy woman and she was into everything and she was just so different from most Presidents' wives. So Mr. Farley had come down to see Dorothy McAlister and then he had gone to the President of the United States and said if you don't shut up these damn women in the Democratic Committee, it's just making trouble on the Hill with the southern senators and congressmen.
SUE THRASHER:
Because of the poll tax, not because of the 50-50?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They weren't going to pay any attention to that anyway, particularly when women didn't vote, not enough to make any difference. But he was getting terribly upset about the poll tax because it was kind of catching on. No bills had been introduced, but it was beginning to sort of catch on. So now we come up to the year of '36, when Roosevelt won by the greatest majority in history. I don't know whether Lyndon Johnson got a bigger vote in '64 or not but anyway in '36 Roosevelt won his second term for President by the biggest majority at that time had ever been known. He won every state except Maine and Vermont, I believe. And in the meantime, you know, the Wagner Act had been passed to unionize the South, I mean people could unionize. It was part of the NRA, you know, section 7a. But then when the NRA was declared unconstitutional, they saved the Wagner Act—he was a senator from New York. That was passed, which meant that they set up a labor board, you know, and people could organize without being beat up or put in jail like Bull Connor did. So the South was awfully agitated about that because you see cheap labor was their great selling point, to industry, to come down where you've got cheap Anglo-Saxon, happy, powerless people to work for you for a whole lot less than they would in New York or New England. And a

Page 29
lot of the cotton mills had begun to move down South. A lot of those vacant towns you see in New England today like Fall River, all those mills that had moved South, you see. The point was that Farley just raised hell. Well, Mr. Roosevelt was having enough trouble getting his things through anyway. You know the southerners had begun to—The WPA and the NYA and all these things that were giving these niggers, paying them $2 a day or a dollar a day.
Ed Smith, Cotton Ed Smith, said, ain't no nigger never worth more than 50¢ a day. And he was having trouble with all the southerners in the Congress and Senate anyway. And a lot of them you see were the heads of the committees, they were the big shots. So he sent word through his wife. I don't think Farley ever gave us enough attention to come down and see us in the Division; he went to Roosevelt. Mr. Roosevelt told Mrs. Roosevelt all those women down there to cool it, to lay off the poll tax. Well, we had a real indignation meeting, you know. We really were perfectly indignant about it. Anyway we had this big indignation meeting. So this was in '36. He had just won the election. In the meantime you know, he'd lost the Supreme Court fight, about enlarging the Supreme Court, because they'd also been blocking his measures. So he launched the famous purge; you remember the purge? He decided that he himself would go out—he'd won this tremendous victory—and he would go out and he would try to defeat some of these people who'd been blocking all his programs. I think he defeated O'Connor in New York; I think he got him beat. But he came South, and the first one he attacked was Senator George of Georgia. And he made that famous speech I believe at Millegeville, near Warm Springs, where he had his winter place there. And it was the greatest gathering you could imagine of people. And he said, with Senator George sitting right on the platform, that—you see, Fascism was rising in Europe then, there was Mussolini and the Spanish War was going on then and of course Hitler was rising in Germany. So Roosevelt—it's really one of the greatest speeches of all time— said that fascism and feudalism were very much the same.

Page 30
He said that fascism was rising in Europe and that the South was feudalistic. And really feudalism and fascism were very much the same, which meant that the society was controlled by a very small oligarchy, you know, and people did't have any rights and freedoms and powers. Oh, it was a powerful speech. Well, not only did Mr. George get reelected, but he got reelected by the biggest majority there'd ever been in Georgia because everybody in Georgia got perfectly furious and said that here was the President coming down telling them who to vote for, you know. And he had sent Clark Foreman down there, who was a native southerner, you see, he'd been working in the Interior Department trying to get Negroes jobs. He sent him down there to kind of look after the campaign. I forget the man who ran against Senator George. He was a governor or something, a New Dealer. But he got beat so bad, and none of Clark's friend would speak to him. And his uncle, who owned the Atlanta Constitution, would never put his name in the paper as Clark Howell Foreman; he always called him Dr. C. H. Foreman. They stayed down there several months. Oh, it was just swamped, I mean, all their old friends, the Piedmont Driving Club and all the people he'd grown up with and gone to the University with wouldn't have a thing to do with him. No, he was on the wrong side. And Clark, I wish you could have interviewed him about his experiences there. They were rough; and Marian came from Canada, and she had such exquisite manners. She was so gracious. So they had a rough time of it. Anyway, all the southerners he tried to beat, Cotton Ed Smith and Senator George, I don't know whether he took on Bilbo then or not— anyway, they all won. They won overwhelmingly. The purge was a total failure as far as the South was concerned. In the meantime the labor unions were having a terrible time. They were being beat up and put in jail and held incommunicado, and Bull Connor would just throw them in jail and hold them there for six or 8 months—they never would see anybody. A lot of them were killed; nobody knows how many were killed.
SUE THRASHER:
This is the steelworkers organizing in Birmingham?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, but not only in Alabama; it was all over the South. And this was the time of the textile strikes

Page 31
and when they were having the flying squadrons. And there were machine guns around all the cotton mills.
SUE THRASHER:
And how much of this were you hearing at the Women's Democratic Division?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, well, I was hearing a lot of it there, but it was all over you know. This was a great crisis, because Roosevelt had put his prestige on the line to change the South, to try to get rid of this bloc that was defeating him on all of his measures, you see. Then Hugo Black came up with the idea of the wage and labor act, which put a ceiling under wages at 25¢ an hour. Well, that just nearly drove people into spasms because they were paying them 10¢ an hour in the turpentine camps and on the sharecroppers and the day labor particularly in the Black Belt with the Negro, you know, 50¢ a day was the going wage there. You see, it was the resistance of the Old South against all this stuff coming down South, paying people good wages and having unions; the Negro would get big ideas. The whole thing was that after the Civil War the sad thing was that the South attracted industry on the basis of cheap wages. There used to be advertisements in all the papers, you know, about the contented . . . low wage, white, contented labor.
Well, in any case—

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[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well in any case
SUE THRASHER:
Now you're still working daily?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I'm not working daily. I used to go down and volunteer. By that time I had two children; I had three because Lucy had come along by that time. So I had three children; I wasn't quite as free. I still had help, but I wasn't quite as free.
SUE THRASHER:
I don't know whether we went back to this meeting the women had after Farley passed the word down.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
We just had this meeting. So we discussed an idea of setting up an independent committee to abolish the poll tax. It never came to anything out of the Democratic Committee, but the idea was we would set up an independent committee. But then what happened was that after Roosevelt had been beaten so badly in his purge and after the labor unions were having such a hard time—that's when Ida Sledge got run out of Mississippi and Joe Gelders got beat up.
Well, then the La Follette committee began to investigate the violations of the Wagner Act. Bob La Follette was from Wisconsin, the son of the old Bob La Follette and he was a friend of Sister's and Hugo's and I had met him several times there at dinner, and I thought he was an awful nice fellow—had an awfully nice wife. So I got absolutely absorbed in the La Follette committee. I would go up every morning and stay there all day long, because they were investigating the violations of the Wagner Act, and Harlan County and the steel workers and the automobile workers. This book of Jeremy Brecker's has some of it in it. But there was terrible violence and fires and Pinkertons and detectives and arsenals. All of this was new to me, you know. I had seen the poverty in Alabama, but never the violence. I had never seen, and I was just terribly shocked at this. And then when they got to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company in Birmingham, Alabama, then I really was just shocked out of my mind.
See, I had never known Joe Gelders, although he had been in college with Cliff at the University of Alabama. But you see he had come down and was head of something called the Southern Civil Rights Committee, who tried to get prisoners out of jail.
SUE THRASHER:
What do you mean when you say "he had

Page 33
come down"?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was teaching at the University of Alabama, teaching physics. And when the depression came, he was completely unpolitical. He was married to Ester Frank, who was a beautiful girl from Montgomery—she taught English. And they were a very popular young couple at the University of Alabama, but both of them totally unpolitical. Joe had been raised in Birmingham; his father was quite a wealthy man. He had a brother named Lewis Gelders, whom I'd gone to school with all my life, who married one of the Gussen girls. Mrs. Gussen was quite a famous character in Birmingham. She was a music teacher. But Lewis married one of the Gussen girls, and Joe married Ester Frank from Montgomery. And then they had a sister named Emma, who married one of the Sterns from Anniston. They were a wealthy family, and Emma had gone to Smith. She was older than I was, but Emma Gelders was extremely bright, and she belonged to a group of girls in Birmingham who were older than I was. We always called them the Bluestockings because they'd all been graduated from college, Mary Parkland, Martha Toolmin, and Amelia Worthington. And they discussed books. And they were suffragettes, too! They believed in women's suffrage. And so I knew them, but I didn't know them well. Anyway, Joe Gelders and Ester were down at the University. And when they began the program—this was a New Deal program, too—when Henry Wallace got to be with the Agriculture Department, they began to kill the pigs and plow up the corn and cotton to raise the prices. You see the price was down to nothing. So they destroyed, you know, pigs; they killed them. And they plowed up cotton; they plowed up the corn. But Joe Gelders, who was totally unpolitical, he saw all around him in Tuscaloosa people starving, you know, and nothing to wear, and living just barely from hand to mouth.
See, I cannot describe to you young people about the rickets and pellagra and the worms and the hookworm, because you say you've never seen it. Well, I saw it and he saw it: people who were just on the last go-round. When you see a child that's shaking all over with rickets because they don't get any protein, it's a pretty horrible sight. See, I saw all that—I told you before—when I worked in the Junior League

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in Birmingham. We were taking the Red Cross around, and I saw people with these great white blotches of pellagra. First time I saw it, I thought they had—oh, that terrible disease, in the Bible—leprosy. I thought they had leprosy; it scared me to death. I really did. See I never . . . You see the black people would have these great white blotches on them, too, from pellagra.. And the white people would have these blotches. It came from pellagra. And they all looked yellow and drawn. And the ones with hookworm . . . You know Aubrey Williams came from the country, and he had a lot of relatives poor as Job's turkey. They were poor as they could be. And I'd say, what'd they do. And he'd say, well, they'd just sit and spit all day.
SUE THRASHER:
And that's from hookworm?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
From hookworm. They were so diseased and lazy. Everybody said the southerners were so lazy; they didn't like to get out and work. Well, they had hookworm and they had all these parasitic diseases and nutritional diseases. You never saw them. And you never saw the children in the mill villages that worked in the cotton mills. You see it took me—I was twenty-odd years old before I waked up to it and it was right around me. And of course you never saw it. But after I did see it, it got me stirred up. So Joe Gelders saw all this and he got terribly upset. It was just the irrationality of killing pigs when people were hungry and plowing up cotton when they didn't have anything to wear. And you know they were burning wheat in the Midwest. It was the destruction of things trying to raise the price. So he didn't know a thing about economics. He had never read a book on economics in his life. So he went to the library and began to read economics. And he started out with Adam Smith, I think. Anyway, he went right on through. He read all the books he could find on economics. He read the Beards, you know, Charles and Mary Beard. He went right on through the economics shelf. So finally he got to the socialists, the Webbs. Did you ever try to read the Webbs book, from England? They were Fabians. Well, he read the Webb book. I read them in Wellesley, and they were hard reading. But they stirred me up a little bit there, but not much. But anyway, he

Page 35
finally got up to Engels and Marx. And he said, this is it! He said this is the answer to all this poverty and all of this killing the pigs and burning up the corn and cotton. So he began to have people come up to the house. And he'd go around and tell everybody that he'd found the answer to the depression, and it was capitalism. And you had to have Marxism.
SUE THRASHER:
Was he still in Tuscaloosa at the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Sure, he was still teaching at the University. He was just converted by reading these books. He never met a Marxist in his life, or a socialist either.
SUE THRASHER:
He was not even in the Party at this time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He never knew there was a party. He never heard of it. You know, he was just completely blank. He read it, and he decided that this was the answer to poverty—socialism, or Marx and Engels anyway. It was all theoretical, you see, because he had no contact. The idea of people killing pigs and burning up cotton and corn when people were starving; well, it's rather simple to comprehend that something's wrong anyway. So Joe began having these meetings at his house. And the next year they told him they didn't want him to come back. Well, he was very much surprised. Now I may not have all this straight, but this is my understanding of it. So he went up to visit his sister, Emma Gelders, who married one of the Sterns from Anniston, and he was a very rich man—Roy Stern—I mean he had a big salary. He was a lawyer. They lived on Long Island someplace, and they had a big house. They had two girls, Barbara and Ann. So they were very conservative kind of intellectual—kept up with everything but not radical in the least. So Joe began to take courses and he looked up the Communist Party and he got in with the radicals in New York at that time—made contacts with them. So they told him—and of course I don't know who he dealt with; all of this is just hearsay—I mean knowledge from my own personal standpoint. But I know he did get in contact with the radicals in New York. Now he always said he never actually joined the Communist Party, in that he was a card-carrying member—maybe they thought it was better for him not to. Anyway, they told him the best thing he could do was come South and try to help these

Page 36
people being thrown in jail. You see, these were the labor organizers. John L. Lewis at that time was head of the CIO—and he was using these young people, like these young civil rights workers, and some of them were Communist. And he would send them down as sort of shock troops. Of course he never let a Communist in the Miners' . . . or a woman either, you knew that. But he sent them down as shock troops, and they'd go to these little towns and try to organize and they'd get killed and beat up. And then in Birmingham where they tried to organize the steel workers they were thrown in the jail and held incommunicado. You see, Bull Connor had been head of the Steel Police; the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Rail Company had a private police force, the Steel Police. So he went from being head of the Steel Police of the TCI to being the head of the Police Department of Birmingham, Alabama. And they were fighting them like they were fighting fire. [interruption]
SUE THRASHER:
He's now up in New York with his brother-in-law, Roy Stern.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
And his sister Emma. So he stayed there that summer. I didn't know him and I don't know how long he stayed in New York. He stayed in New York several months. Anyway, he came down here . . . I think it was part of the Labor Defense League in the National Labor Defense League, but they didn't call it that; they called it the Southern Civil Defense League, or something like that. It was to defend the people who were being put in jail.
SUE THRASHER:
And Gelders worked for that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, he was head of it. He had an office, in Birmingham.
And then his wife in the meantime had been fired from the University, or left—I don't remember if she was fired or what. And she came and worked with him as his secretary. And they were always bringing lawsuits. He was part of Ted's [Rosengarten] book; he's mentioned in there, you know, as having come down in that case of the sharecropper in Tallassee.
In any case, these people who—one of them I met years later; I met him in—it was a strange coincidence. He was Don West's brother-in-law. He was married to one of Don West's sisters. And he had come down here as an early Communist organizer and was thrown into the jail in Bessemer and beat up terribly and had tuberculosis. And then he was sent out to Colorado. And I forget even how I met him. It must have been

Page 37
at some meeting I met him, at the Southern Conference or something. I met him on the street in that short time we lived in Denver. I remembered him and I couldn't remember his name. I spoke to him and told him who I was and asked him about . . . He may have known me, but that was a part of his life that he had wiped out and he didn't want to even remember—he didn't want to even be reminded of it. He must have suffered terribly, and he just wanted to be completely free of it. They were tortured, I'm sure. He couldn't even get in contact with anybody, a doctor—now I don't know how many of them died. This was all over the South. A little later when I'd got to know Miles and Jim through the Southern Conference and would go to the Highlander, they'd come to the Highlander all beaten up and bleeding. Miles has all of that. And John L. Lewis was coming down to see; he was the—what do they call it in the last chapter of Revelations when the monster comes out of the sea and the world and all. They were all preaching that, you know, and John L. Lewis was the monster. Well, anyway, Joe Gelders was down here. His wife wasn't with him at the time he got beat up.
SUE THRASHER:
Now this is the late 30's?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, no, this is about '36 or '37.
SUE THRASHER:
Why do you think Gelders had not heard more about the Party since the Party did have people down here during that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He came from wealthy, rich people—his father made a lot of money. He was a very successful businessman. He hadn't ever come in contact with any radicals in his life, I don't suppose, just like me. And you see I was all confused about Communism and Bolsheviks. They called Hugo Bolshevik all the time because he represented the labor unions, and I just took it as a matter of course that if you belonged to the labor union you were a Bolshevik. All the time Hugo was running for the Senate, you see, in '26 he was being called the Bolshevik, and all the people were coming around trying to tell Daddy and Mother not to let Sister marry him because he was a Bolshevik—he represented the labor unions. So I just naturally assumed that anybody that was a union member was a Bolshevik. I didn't know what a Bolshevik was exactly. He [Joe Gelders] had no contact with steel workers or coal mining people or working people. You see we lived on the

Page 38
South Side there around Birmingham—now of course the best residential districts are over the mountain in Birmingham. Five Points was the good residential district and around Highland Avenue. We never came in contact with any working people, except Negroes who worked in the house or a plumber maybe or somebody to fix the furnace. The town was just divided. He came back to Birmingham and in the meantime Bull Connor had been made head of the Birmingham Police Department. And they got the head of the National Guard; he was head of the Steel Police—his name was . . . [unknown] It'll come to me, too. I miss Cliff so much because he could always remember names so much better than I could. He was head of the Alabama National Guard, so we can get his name. But he was at that time head of the Steel Police. Gelders was walking home one night and this car stopped and picked him up and took him over the mountain and they drove way into the woods and they stripped him and they beat him. And not only did they beat him, they stomped him, and they left him for dead. And he acted like he was dead. I think they left him for dead, way off in the woods over the mountain. Well, he wasn't dead, but he was naked. They had taken his clothes off and they had whipped him and they had stomped him. And when he died, they did an autopsy on him—he died fairly young; he was in his fifties—and they found that all the bones in his chest had been crushed into just one mass of ligaments and bone because of the stomping, and kicking and all.

Page 39
All of this is told in great detail in the La Follette Committee Report on the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. You have to read that. I can give you my impressions, but all the details are in there. Anyway, during one of the Lafallette Committee hearings I heard all this about the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and Joe Gelders and about how he'd been beaten up. And he wasn't there, but this was an account—he was still in the hospital because what happened was he crawled to the road someway and a man picked him up and took him to the hospital in Clanton, Alabama. And then some of his relatives, his wife's relatives, came and got him and brought down to Montgomery and he stayed here for quite a while to recuperate. But then he went back and took up the job again of being head of . . . He was sick for a long time, you know, recovering from this. So during the La Follette hearings, I heard all this about the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. Then there was a lot about an organization of businessmen who'd formed a Defense Committee. Whether they were behind the beating or what, I don't know. But anyway, they had formed a Defense Committee against these outside agitators. Most of these men were names of people I knew, fathers of friends of mine. So I immediately got all excited and sent off telegrams and letters and said, I have heard your name mentioned in this hearing and I am sure it couldn't be true. I had very embarrassed letters in reply. But you see they were fighting against the unions coming in. They were terrified of the unions. Whether they were behind the beating or not, I don't know. Or whether that was done by the police department of the TCI, or what, I just don't know.
SUE THRASHER:
This was the first time you'd heard Joe Gelders' name was in the La Follette Hearings?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. Well, you see, I'd gone to school with his brother, and I knew his sister. I knew who he was.
SUE THRASHER:
So when his name came up, you knew who he was?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, but I had never laid eyes on him. I could place him, but I didn't know who he was. So later on in that summer, we came back home to Alabama for a visit. You see we'd come home once or twice a year to see our families, and I went to see him. He was in the telephone book. I called up and asked if I could come by to see him, because I was really horrified at this. And I wanted to meet him and see what in the world a guy like that was who would . . . So I went up to this old office in an office building down town, and there his wife was, this pretty girl, Ester, who's still pretty. She lives out in California now. She's still living, but I don't know what they've done with all the material Joe had, if they kept it or not.
SUE THRASHER:
The one that was here, was that his grandson, or Emma Gelders' grandson?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That was his sister's grandson, Emma Gelders married Roy Stern, and she had a daughter

Page 40
Ann, who married a Mr. Copperman. And this boy was named Terry Copperman. He's a doctor. You met him here. Well, in any case. They said let's go outside. I said what's the matter, and they said, well, we'll go out and have a Coca-Cola. So they got me out of the building, and we went and sat in this little park. And I asked them what in the world was the matter, and they said, we know our office is tapped. I had never heard of tapping before. So that was a surprise to me, too. So I met them and thought they were very nice. I liked them very much. I met the man I'd heard all this about; I was concerned about him. And I found that everybody in Birmingham whom I used to know and had been my old friends, and even members of my family, they were just as scared as they could be of the union. They thought the unions were pretty dangerous things. And the agitators that were coming down, they called them, and the Bolsheviks, you know.
SUE THRASHER:
Were your father and mother still living in the house on Niazuma Avenue at the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes. Mother had melancholia then. She had a terrible depression. A woman lived there with her, and Daddy lived there. Daddy had lost everything in the world he had then except that house.
SUE THRASHER:
Was he working on one of the New Deal programs then?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, he was working on one of the New Deal programs, but it was a small salary. But it was enough to keep them going. And we helped them out when we could. He'd lost all the plantation; he'd lost all the Birmingham real estate; he'd lost . . . Everything in the house was so heavily mortgaged that it finally went, too. Well, I went back to Washington. Nothing had been done about the poll tax. It was still in this state of abeyance as it were, because the Democratic Women had been refused to work on it.
So then Cliff and Lister Hill and John Sparkman and Clark Foreman and Tex Goldschmidt and Abe Fortas and all the southern New Dealers belonged to something called the . . . I forget the name of it, but they'd have dinner together once a month and talk about the South. After the miserable failure that Roosevelt had made in his purge of the South, Clark Foreman and another fellow there in Washington, a very bright fellow named Jerome Frank, they had the idea that a pamphlet

Page 41
should be written on the South. They sold the idea to the President, and Lowell Mellett, who was head of something called the Emergency Committee which was sort of the propaganda, publicity end of the New Deal. So they wrote this pamphlet called The South: Economic Problem Number One. And Cliff has an article in there on credit, and he wrote the letter that the President signed. It's kind of a collector's item now. I'm sure I have one. Cliff used to give them out to people. Anyway, they wrote the pamphlet, and they mostly wrote it in my living room and they were always fighting each other. Arthur Raper, you know, there were a lot of people from the South that wrote it. There were a lot of young southerners.
SUE THRASHER:
Was Aubrey Williams on it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I don't think . . . Aubrey was too busy. He might have attended a few meetings. They wrote this pamphlet called The South: Economic Problem Number One. It was all about the South and the lack of credit and the state of affairs and so on. Here I'm trying to get the two groups together. Here was this New Deal group of young southerners working mostly in my living room at night, or sometimes down at Lowell Mellett's, who lived right down the road. The New Dealers had begun to move into the neighborhood then, and he was a dear friend. He worked in the White House, and he was head of this national Emergency Council, which was a sort of publicity arm of the New Deal. So they sold the idea of this pamphlet to the President and to Lowell Mellett. And they had articles on agriculture and industry. It was a kind of manifesto of what had to be done in the South. It's really very good. It's still good. OK, we've got this young group of southerners writing this pamphlet in my living room.
So in the meantime the labor union people were having more and more trouble. In the meantime I had met Mr. John L. Lewis, and I told you how I met Mr. John L. Lewis, didn't I? Anyway, I met Mrs. Lewis at a tea party, and she invited me to come and visit and I did, and I met her daughter Kathryn and we got to be good friends. The first thing Mr. Lewis said to me when he heard my name; I never will forget, he said, Durr, Durr. Cliff was with me. Mr. Lewis had very good manners and always talked in that Shakespearean basso profundo voice. They had this beautiful old house in Alexandria

Page 42
full of beautiful antiques, beautiful garden, and he had a chaffaur and a cook and a maid. And Mrs. Lewis was just as sweet a woman as you've ever known in your life; she was just a lovely person. So when he heard the name Durr he said, I wonder if you're any relation to Mr. John W. Durr? And Cliff said, yes, he's my father. He said, oh, I used to know your father. Cliff said, how'd you ever know my father? He said, well, when Gov. Kilby broke the United Mine Workers strike in Alabama in 1920, I believe, your father was one of the board. Kilby appointed a board to arbitrate this strike. And Cliff's father had been one of the men of the board, and the board had come out saying the strikers had been all wrong. The company's not only paid them well but were so beneficient to them and built churches. So they broke the strike. Well, that was a rather embarrassing beginning.
SUE THRASHER:
This is Tape 2 [unknown] This is the second series of interviews October 16, 1975. with Virginia Durr.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well anyway, Mr. Lewis had bought this beautiful old house in Alexandria which had belonged to the Lees. He banked with the Bryants. They had a big bank in Alexandria, and they were kind of leading citizens, rich citizens, of Alexandria, Virginia. And he was on the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Theological Seminary. The Bryants were kind of the big shots.
And Mrs. Bryant had been a Mason, and they had lived in the big old Mason house that was down the street from where we lived. She was the granddaughter of the Mason who went to, you know, in the Confederacy, with Slidell to England, you remember. And she was also the descendent of the Mason that lived down on the river, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, wasn't he? George Mason? Anyway they had an old

Page 43
sort of Victorian house. So she had a sister named Lucy Randolph Mason, who had been a YWCA worker. And Miss Lucy was a very pretty, white-haired Virginia lady who wore glasses, very dainty and extremely Virginian looking, if you know what I mean, very aristocratic looking—had a lovely soft Virginia voice. And Mrs. Bryant had invited me to a luncheon party to meet her sister Miss Lucy Randolph Mason. So Mrs. Bryant was very attractive, very bright, lively lady and had a big house. I never will forget what marvelous meals you'd get. I remember that way we had broiled quail on toast and sherbert in between and charlotte russe. But this was a ladies' luncheon, so I met this Lucy Randolph Mason. And she told me at this meeting that she was at the YWCA, but she was very anxious to get into the New Deal or into some sort of another line of work because she had realized that the YWCA, as good as it was, it really wasn't attacking the problem of poverty. And I was very much impressed with Miss Lucy. We discussed the situation in the South, you know. So through her brother-in-law, Mr. Bryant, who was head of the bank, he went to see Mr. John L. Lewis and told Mr. Lewis that she wanted to get into the labor movement. She had been in the YWCA and welfare work, but she had decided this really didn't begin to attack the real problem, which was this terrible poverty. And she wanted to get into the labor movement, the union movement. So Mr. John L. Lewis, who was a very bright man in many ways. If he hadn't had such a terrible ego—that was his stumbling block. He immediately saw Miss Lucy could be of a great advantage in the South. He's smart enough to see to send Miss Lucy South as his public relations person would be very disarming because all these fierce people, police chiefs and sheriffs and newspaper editors, you know, who were looking for some big old gorilla to come in and Miss Lucy appears. She was the kind of lady that men would instinctively rise, give her a seat, because she was such a perfect southern lady. So he hired her as his public relations representative in the South, and he gave her an office in Atlanta. There's a girl over in Atlanta, a big fat girl, Margaret somebody, she lives in New York now. She and Miss Lucy were great friends. Josephine

Page 44
Wilkins would know her name, because she was a great friend of hers too. Anyway . . . Josephine knows all this, too. You know you ought to interview Josephine because she knew all of this very well. You know Josephine's a whole lot older than I am. You won't believe it but I'm 72 and she's 80. Isn't she remarkable? So, they were having a textile strike in Mississippi. There was a great deal of violence going on in Mississippi. And Joe Gelders had gone over there. There was a fellow named Jimmy Collins, who had been beat up and arrested. He was an officer, an organizer of the textile workers. I believe this was all in Tupelo where John Rankin came from and you know John Rankin hated the unions worse than anything in the world; he was terribly racist, too, he was just a terrible old man, I thought. He was like Bilbo, but he was higher class than Bilbo. But he was as big a racist as Bilbo. He was very much against unions. So they had been having all this terrible trouble in Tupelo and that's when Ida Sledge, whom I've told you about, whom I got to know so well later, had gone down. The IGWU had sent her down to Tupelo to help organize the women. They made overalls and cotton dresses. There was a factory there. But she got run out of town. She was a Sledge. She was very aristocratic. I hate to use this word again. Her father married and had a daughter who married Will Bankhead, who was Tallulah's mother, Eugenia's mother. That was Miss Ada Sledge. If you want to go down here to the musuem here, you can see her wedding costumes and her trusseau. She had a waist, I think, 15 inches. She was very beautiful and extremely charming. She died when Tallulah was born. And if you've ever read anything about Tallulah, you know Tallulah always said she was so strange because she always felt she killed her mother, by being born. Have you ever read any Tallulah books? Well they're rather interesting books, but peculiar to say the least. But Tallulah, you know, was kind of crazy, I think. When she was in "The Little Foxes" she was absolutely marvelous. That was Lillian Hellman's play, perfectly marvelous. Well, anyway, Mr. Sledge married again quite late in life and he had a daughter named Ida

Page 45
Sledge. So that made Ida Tallulah's half-aunt. I know by this time you've quit.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
SUE THRASHER:
So Ida Sledge was working there for the IGWU?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She was the one I've told you about that had gone to Wellesley and began to work for the ILGWU in Baltimore and they sent her down to Mississippi, because she came from Mississippi. They had the idea, the unions did, that if native southerners came down here, they wouldn't maybe have as much trouble as outsider agitators, as they were called. Ida got run out of town twice, out of Tupelo, once in her nightgown. They came and got her. She had a tough time. I have a lot of the articles that came out about it in the papers.
SUE THRASHER:
She's also in Lucy's book. I remember than.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Lucy Mason wrote a book herself? I must have read that, but I can't remember.
SUE THRASHER:
To Win These Rights.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
In any case, Miss Lucy and Joe Gelders got together, in Mississippi, I think. See, here was Joe Gelders living in Birmingham trying to protect the rights of these organizers and get them out of jail and keep them from being beat to death and held incommunicado. And here was Miss Lucy who was the CIO representative in Atlanta. But I think they met in this trouble in Tupelo, involving Ida Sledge and Jimmy Collins. And Joe was an extremely lovely fellow. He was tall and thin. He looked like a kind of a Jewish prophet in a way, in that he had a very sensitive face and a very strong face, the combination of both strength and beauty. And he was an absolutely honest man. I never met a person in whom I had greater faith or trust. And he really was devoured. You see he'd had a conversion almost after this killing of the pigs and things; he felt like all the suffering . . . You see the thing that made the depression so awful was that it was not a depression of scarcity—it was a depression of glut. In other words, there was too much of everything. Do you get my

Page 46
point?
SUE THRASHER:
It wasn't spread out?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I mean there was too much wheat, too much corn, because people couldn't buy it, you see. Like Abyssinia or Ethopia or a country that has just nothing to it much except some sand and desert and some few little patches, when the people go hungry there you can understand. The Sahara Desert or these poor people there, you know you're always seeing their pictures. But here in this great rich country, these people were starving to death and having rickets and consumption and hookworm and pellagra, because there was just too much. It was the idea of people starving in the midst of plenty. So Joe had become obsessed; really, he was a flaming torch of anger and also of determination to set it right. So he and Miss Lucy got together over there in Mississippi. And she had known Mrs. Roosevelt in her days of the YWCA and women's works and things like that. So she and Joe decided that they would go up to Hyde Park where the Roosevelts were then staying and see if they would organize in the South some sort of an association or meeting or have a meeting and bring together the New Deal elements in the South, the labor unions, the people who were benefitting by the New Deal, like the WPA people, and . . . So they did. They went up to Hyde Park and they got Mr. Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt to agree to have a meeting. Now this was in 1937, I believe.
So Hugo had been put on the Supreme Court that year. Hugo was put on in 1937, as I recall, or '38. But anyway, Hugo had defended Roosevelt's Supreme Court plan. Roosevelt put him on the Supreme Court and he also wanted a liberal southerner, you see. He changed the whole context of the Democratic Party by getting rid of these reactionary southerners, because he said the Democratic Party was just stymied. Everything they wanted to do, you see, these southerners who were head of the congressional delegations, I mean the committees, stymied him. When they came back through, going South, they stopped in Alexandria, where Miss Lucy Randolph Mason was staying with her sister, Mrs. Bryant, who was the social leader of Alexandria and had the lovely parties. And they

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called me up and asked to come out to see me, you see I had met them both. I had met Miss Lucy at Mrs. Bryant's and I met Joe when I went to visit him at the office. So they came out to see me one morning, and they said that the Roosevelts had agreed to have this meeting. And they were anxious to know if Hugo Black, whom I'm sure had been put on the Supreme Court at that time, would speak at the meeting. I think that was the main thing. Well, I told them, as I always told everybody, that the only way to approach Hugo Black was directly, you know. See, Miss Lucy had the backing of the CIO. And Joe was the head of this Civil Rights Defense Committee, or whatever. And they had gotten the Roosevelt backing, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt's backing, and now they were trying to get Hugo Black to come and make a speech. Well, Hugo, my brother-in-law, he hated for people to approach him through the family, if you know what I mean. It made him mad for people to call me up or his wife up. So Joe did go to see him, and he did agree to make a speech at the meeting.
SUE THRASHER:
Had the meeting place been set at that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, this was all in the very early stages. So in the meantime, I told Joe and Miss Lucy about this group of people, you know, Cliff was a member, that had written this pamphlet, The South: Economic Problem Number One, and I told them to get in touch with them, you know Clark Foreman and all those people, Frank Graham, Arthur Raper, all the North Carolina people. So they did. So they had the first meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama, in November or the fall of 1938. Well, in the meantime, I still worked with the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee, though not as often as I had been. But they sent me as a delegate. I was a delegate from the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. Then they asked Cliff to make a speech on credit; you see, he was still with the RFC. And he has a piece in this The South: Economic Problem Number One on credit. So all these various groups just sort of came together; there was the labor group that Miss Lucy represented, of all people, and that Joe represented, and then there was the New Deal group, Cliff

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and Clark Foreman and all those people, and Mrs. Roosevelt, of course, insisted that Negroes be included.
SUE THRASHER:
Now who else besides Lucy Mason and Gelders sort of worked on the planning?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It was all planned down here in the South. I wasn't in on the earlier planning. The only big part I played was getting Miss Lucy and Joe into connection with Cliff and Clark Foreman and all that crowd that had done The South: Economic Problem Number One. So all these things came together, you see. The meeting was announced. Hugo Black was going to be a speaker, and Mrs. Roosevelt was coming and Aubrey Williams was going to make a speech. So I came down and Cliff had been at a meeting of the American Bankers' Association in Texas. Mr. Jesse Jones had taken Cliff down to Texas to this meeting of the American Bankers' Association. But he stopped off on his way back from Texas. And one of the speakers was going to be Mr. Dodd, who'd been the Ambassador to Germany, you know, Martha Dodd's father, Bill Dodd's father, and who'd been the great historian, you know. He's the one who taught Dr. Bond, Horace Mann Bond, who said he was the greatest teacher he ever had. He'd been a great professor at the University of Chicago and he'd been sent to Germany as the Ambassador. And he was the first one, you know, who began to tell people how awful Hitler was and the danger of Hitlerism and the Nazis. Nobody believed him, you know. So he was invited to be a speaker. Oh, I tell you the person who got it up and who was the secretary of it was a fellow named H. C. Nixon, who taught at Vanderbilt. And he was the secretary of it and he wrote a book called Forty Acres and a Mule. He came from over in Jackson, Alabama. He was the nicest kind of a fellow. He was the secretary of the committee that planned it. He was the kind of the organizer. His name was H. C. Nixon; I met his son several years ago and he's a lovely fellow, too. I don't know where he is now. But he had a job at Vanderbilt I believe. He taught there, and he wrote a book Forty Acres and a Mule, a pretty good book I thought. He was a lovely

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fellow, and he organized it. And he'd studied at Chicago with Dr. Dodd but he dropped out. He got in some trouble, after this, at Vanderbilt. His wife got scared, I think, and he dropped out. He continued teaching at Vanderbilt, but he dropped out of any activity, if you know what I mean. He stopped coming to Highlander or taking part in any of the southern movements that were going on. So my mother and father, you see, were living there on Niazuma Avenue in Birmingham, and Mother was still sick with this depression, and the lady was still living in the house. Well, we all stayed there. It was a big house.
So I got there. Cliff, you see, was going to meet me from Texas and that afternoon on Sunday we went down to the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham and they had the first meeting. There was a woman named Louise Charlton—I think she was an assistant to bankruptcy or something. She'd been active in organizing it. Now Mrs. Roosevelt had insisted—this is what I understand—Mrs. Roosevelt was the one that insisted that blacks be included. And Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune was kind of her emissary. You ought to get some of this from Dr. Gomillion, because he would know more than I do about how the blacks got into this. Certainly the Democratic Committee had nothing to do with the black vote at that time. So we met in the Auditorium and oh it was a love feast—there must have been 1500 to 2000 people there from all over the South, black and white, labor union people and New Dealers and Dr. Frank Graham and all these nice men from the University of North Carolina. Then Miss Lucy was there. Just a big huge crowd of people. The proceedings are somewhere. They had a lot of preaching and praying, singing, you know, at southern meetings you always have a lot of preaching and praying and hymn singing. And then they elected Frank Graham as chairman. He got kind of queasy, too, later on about Communism, particularly when they defeated him for the Senate, you know, on this. It was a lovely meeting; the whole meeting was just full of love and hope. It was thrilling; it was really marvelous. And Dr. Graham made the most beautiful speech. He was a lovely, lovely man. He was another one of these pure men, if you know what I mean. So he

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sort of set the tone for the meeting. Oh, we all went away from there Sunday night just full of love and gratitude. The new day had come; the whole South was coming together to make a new day, and it was just thrilling. OK. Well, the next morning we get down to the City Auditorium and the whole auditorium was surrounded by Black Marias, you know what they are, station wagons. Every policeman in Birmingham was there, and there was Bull Connor. And so they announced, Bull Connor announced that if the segregation laws were not observed—you see on Sunday night it had been unsegregated; in other words, black and white sat all over the auditorium—but he announced on Monday morning that if it was not segregated everybody would be arrested. You see there was a central aisle in the City Auditorium and he said the blacks had to sit on one side and the whites on the other. And there was all kind of confusion about whether the blacks and whites could occupy the platform at the same time.
SUE THRASHER:
He didn't insist that the blacks sit in the back, though?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he gave them a whole side, but if anybody crossed over that side, they were going to be arrested. And so the policemen were all around the inside of the hall watching everybody to see that they didn't integrate. And in the meantime the Ku Klux Klan or whoever it was that was the chief instigator of the resistance had gotten a woman named—she was a kind of a bad character round town who did dirty work for the . . . she said she was head of the Democratic white women. I think her name was Brown. But anyway they came out in the paper with all this terrible goings-on down there. And she began the whole line about how the black men and the white women were undoubtedly spending the night together. You know, it was just that nasty, cesspool, vicious kind of stuff. So then on Monday Mrs. Roosevelt arrived. So she was ushered in with great eclat. And everybody clapped and clapped and clapped and clapped. So Mrs. Roosevelt got a little folding chair and put it right in the middle of the aisle. She said she refused

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to be segregated. They were afraid to arrest her. She carried this little folding chair with her whereever she went, because they broke up into workshops. They workshops were in various churches and things, and she'd take her chair.
SUE THRASHER:
And the workshops also had to be segregated?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Had to be segregated; policemen followed us everywhere, everywhere. The churches had to be segregated. Everywhere you went had to be segregated. And of course the Tutwiler Hotel was where a lot of white people were staying, and that was completely segregated. The only thing I remember that happened particularly during the day, maybe it was Sunday night, was that Mrs. Charlton, Mrs. Louise Charlton, who had been one of the organizers, who was presiding temporarily until Dr. Graham got to be elected president . . . She called on Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, and she called her Mary; she said, Mary, do you wish to come to the platform, or something. And Mrs. Bethune got up—did you ever see her? You know she looked like an African queen; she was a very large woman and homely, if you know what I mean, but she had an air of grandeur and she always carried a stick that President Roosevelt had given her engraved with her name on it; she was very proud of that stick. So Mrs. Bethune got up with that stick and she said, my name is Mrs. Bethune. So Louise Charlton had to say Mrs. Bethune, will you come to the platform. Well, that sounds like a small thing now, but that was a big dividing line. A Negro woman in Birmingham, Alabama, called Mrs. Bethune at a public meeting. So Mrs. Bethune was very eloquent as always. This was on Monday. Well, they had meetings all that day and Cliff came in and he did his article on credit. And then I went to the meeting on the poll tax, on the franchise and the vote. It was all broken up into working things.
So Monday afternoon Hugo and Cliff, ah Hugo and Sister got in, you see they'd come down from Washington. Hugo was going to speak on Tuesday night, but they'd come down on Monday. And they had come down on the train with Dr. Dodd,

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who was supposed to speak on Monday night. When they got there at our house on Niazuma Avenue, they said Dr. Dodd had gone crazy, that he had lost his mind, that he was just wandering in a daze. He didn't know where he was. He'd had a very severe accident several months before, and had had a severe head injury. They thought he'd had some lesion on the brain or something because they said he was completely noncompassed. Well, Hugo was terribly upset about that. He got hold of Dr. Nixon, who had been a student of Dr. Dodd's, I think, who was kind of organizer. They had to keep him from speaking. His mind had left him; I don't think he ever did recover it.
SUE THRASHER:
I think in the earlier segment you said he got up to speak and his mind went blank on the stage.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It was something like that, but I know they had to lead him off the stage. It was a very tragic thing, terribly sad because he'd been . . .
SUE THRASHER:
What was Dodd's first name?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
William Dodd. You ought to hear Julian Bond talk about him sometime, or Dr. Bond in his books. He was a great professor at the University of Chicago. That book that Dr. Bond wrote, his Ph.D. thesis called "Negro Education in Alabama," I believe he wrote under the guidance of Dr. Dodd. And it's really a great book, too. You must read that because that's really a wonderful book—Julian's father. So we come to Tuesday. And this awful Mrs.—what was her name? The papers were still coming out with these terrible attacks on us. All sorts of people were attacking us. Of course the police were still following us every step. So Aubrey came in to make a speech. He was a very jolly, funny fellow, always cracking jokes. And some fool reporter cornered him and said, is this going to be a revolution? And Aubrey said something like, some silly remark he made which had nothing . . . something like, the more the better, you know, or I hope so, or some phrase, some absolutely, idiotic, dumb, silly, funny remark. He thought he was just being funny. He was just replying to this reporter's idea of revolution. So Hugo was going to speak the next night and Mrs. Roosevelt. That was Tuesday night. The only active Communists I met there were Jane and Dolly—I've told you about

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them, haven't I?—who were Mrs. Nash Reid's sister and niece. Not only were Jane and Dolly active; they might as well have carried a placard, because they were extremely active. Miss Jane particularly, you know, she's red-headed, and she was handing out Marxist literature to everybody. Jane was the daughter; Jane was the one that threw the ink on the Italian consul's white suit. They were running a Marxist bookstore in Birmingham at that time. Of course, Mrs. Charlton, for instance, the more conservative people, Miss Lucy Randolph Mason, too,—though I think they were vaguely related in some Virginia way—I still think they embarrassed a lot of people very much. Some of the North Carolina people—they never saw them again; Jane and Dolly just scared them to death. And then the guy that was the secretary of the Communist party was there, Bob Rob Hall. And he was playing a very quiet part—he was in the background. But he was there; he's the one that got to be the Rockefeller Republican I told you about.
SUE THRASHER:
You had already been to Highlander at this point?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, I never had been.
SUE THRASHER:
So did you meet Miles or Jim at this meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No. I suppose they were there, but I didn't meet them.
SUE THRASHER:
You were mainly meeting the people . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
From Washington, the people I knew from Washington. But mostly I was concerned with this poll tax business, because the whole group of these 1200 people when they finally met the main thing they wanted was to get rid of the poll tax, the vote—that was the first resolution. They had a million resolutions on credit and on agriculture and this, that, and the other, but the main thing was the right to vote. To get rid of the poll tax, and to get rid of the registration laws, to get the right to vote. So they met, and we formed a subcommittee of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare on the poll tax, and Maury Maverick of Texas was the president. I don't believe Maury was there thought, I believe we asked him out to . . . He may have been there; I can't remember whether Maury agreed to be president in Washington or in Birmingham. Anyway, he agreed to be the president. You know who he was, the

Page 54
congressman from San Antonio. And he was a wonderful fellow. Books have been written about Maury. And his son is still in San Antonio, and I saw his wife when I was in Texas this spring.
SUE THRASHER:
There is a great correspondence between you and him.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I just adored Maury. He'd been hurt in the war you know. He had a lot of pain and trouble in his back—been severely injured in the first world war. Anyway, Maury was elected president, I was elected vice-president, and Joe Gelders was elected secretary of the anti-poll tax committee of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare. Frank Graham was elected president of the Southern Conference. And I cannot for the life of me remember who was elected secretary of the Southern Conference. [interruption]
SUE THRASHER:
I was under the impression Joe Gelders began working full-time for the SCHW after '38 and he may have been the secretary.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He wasn't, though. He was the secretary of the anti-poll tax committee, but I don't think he was secretary of the Southern Conference. I think it was Alton Lawrence. Alton Lawrence was working for the CIO then, with the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers. I think he was the one, but you can check that with. . . . Jim's got all those minutes and recordings and things. I've got a lot of stuff here if I could have time to look it up. Looks like every time . . . there just seems to me so much goes on.
SUE THRASHER:
It's not a figment of your imagination!
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Anyway, I think Joe came up to Washington and we got Maury Maverick to agree to be president of the anti-poll tax committee. And I went back and reported to the Democratic ladies, you know, of the Women's Division, that we had formed this anti-poll tax committee of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, and we were going to work with whoever wanted to work to remove the poll tax. Any group that wanted to join in was fine. Oh, I didn't finish about Aubrey—Aubrey making this absolutely silly remark, joking about "the more revolution the better" or [unknown] the day or some crazy, laughing remark. It comes out in huge headlines, Aubrey Williams advocates revolution! So Mr. Roosevelt calls up Mrs. Roosevelt and said, what in the name of God are you all doing?! Aubrey Williams advocating revolution, you know. He said. . . . Mrs. Roosevelt said, well, you know, she didn't know anything about it. And then he got Aubrey on the phone. And he said, what in the world are

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you doing down there advocating revolution? And Aubrey said, well, I'm not advocating revolution. And he tried to explain that he just made a . . . The whole thing was so stupid, you know. Here we were meeting in open meeting surrounded by police on all sides with the Black Marias waiting to take us to jail if we even crossed the line. And then for this idiotic reporter to ask whether we were plotting the revolution. And poor Aubrey, he had to go over to the White House and apologize to Mr. Roosevelt. And he said, Aubrey, you can do the biggest fool things. He really got sore about that. He thought politically, you know, it was such a dangerous thing to do. Anyway, whether that was the reason or not, that night John Bankhead, who was the senator from Alabama, was supposed to introduce Hugo as the new Supreme Court Justice from the South. But John Bankhead didn't ever appear on the scene. The Bankheads, you know, are always looking out for the Bankheads, so he never appeared on the scene. And then Dr. Dodd by that time had been sent back to Chicago under, you know, with a caretaker. Of all people they got to introduce Hugo Black was—what was his name; his father was a newspaper man in Atlanta—John Temple Graves. And he later became one of the most conservative anti-New Deal, anti-Democratic people in the world. But he got up and introduced Hugo and made a perfectly beautiful speech.
SUE THRASHER:
What was he doing at the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, he was a reporter for the paper. He had a column in the paper in Birmingham. He was married to Rose Smith, who was one of the leading families of Birmingham. John Temple did a perfectly beautiful job; I'll never forget it. He later on became just the most rabid anti-New Dealer, the most rabid anti-Democrat you've ever known in your life. And Hugo made a very great speech quoting from Thomas Jefferson. We had a copy of his speech; I don't know whether it's worn out or where it is. But he never mentions anything but Thomas Jefferson; he's speaking through Thomas Jefferson as the great southerner. And he really did make a great speech. And it's all couched in the words of Thomas Jefferson. So that was the end of the meeting. And the whites

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were all on one side and the blacks were all on the other. I can see that meeting now: one side completely black. It was packed you know, to the roof, with thousands of people.
SUE THRASHER:
Were there many blacks there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yeah. Not as many blacks as whites, but a whole lot of them there. You have to ask Dr. Gomillion about the black representation because . . . But that was the end of the meeting. I can see it now: white on one side and black on the other and Mrs. Roosevelt and Hugo standing on the platform both making speeches. Mrs. Roosevelt made a good speech too that night.

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[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, soon after this meeting was over Joe Gelders came up to Birmingham to get some one to introduce a bill in Congress to abolish the poll tax. And that was part of the resolution, decision, too. And Maury Maverick, as I said, agreed to be the president of the committee, but he got beat for Congress soon thereafter and became mayor of San Antonio. But we had got ahold of—you don't remember Pat Jackson, do you? Well, he was very friendly to Joe and he helped him, too, and they got a fellow named Lee Geyer from California. And he agreed to introduce a bill to abolish the poll tax. He was in the House. And he agreed to let us use his office as sort of a place to work in. Well, Mr. Geyer was a lovely man. The trouble was that he had cancer of the throat. It was just beginning. But he was a lovely man. And his nephew was his secretary, and we used his office. You know Joe had gotten Mr. Geyer and then he went back down South. I was stupid; I didn't even know how to mimeograph, or anything. We decided to get out a news sheet. And then we had to arrange the hearings. Well, Hatton Sumners was the head of the Judiciary Committee, and this bill came under his jurisdiction. And he was from Texas, you see. So we had a hearing. Hatton Sumners of Texas, he was an old man and he was very much opposed to it. But he had the hearing; he was forced to have the hearing someway. Maury Maverick testified. I think Clark Foreman testified. I can't remember all the people that testified. I know we were treated in a very hostile way by the committee, particularly by old man Hatton Sumners, who was just burning with rage and indignation at the idea of this bunch of upstarts. We tried to have mostly southerners, you see. And I think Miss Lucy testified. I don't believe I testified. I may have testified; I can't remember it. I think they thought I might get mad or something. I don't remember testifying.
SUE THRASHER:
After the Southern Conference meeting, you had gone back to Washington; had you set

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up an office?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I told you we set up an office in Lee Geyer's office, but not until Joe had come up and gotten Lee Geyer to introduce the Bill.
SUE THRASHER:
But did you work out of that office pretty regularly?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, yeah. I'd go two or three times a week. Not every day but two or three times a week. I'd go real often, and Joe used to, when he was in Washington. Then Pat Jackson gave a cocktail party to raise a little money to keep Joe going. Joe didn't have any money. And this other thing he'd been with, this Southern Civil Rights, civil liberties, whatever it was, folded up. So Joe really had no money at all, and I remember one morning I went down to Lee Geyer's office in the House Office Building and he was sitting on the steps of the capital. He'd been sitting there all night; he didn't have any place to sleep even. You know, we lived way over at Virginia. But he stayed a great deal with us, too. Cliff liked him very much. They used to have long arguments, you know, because Joe was more radical than Cliff. But they had a great deal of respect for each other. I mean, Joe was no problem in the household. He was very gentlemanly person, had lovely manners, but we were hard up. I do remember Pat Jackson gave us a cocktail party for him. That helped some; we got a little money that way.
SUE THRASHER:
Now was he active in the Party at that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Honey, I haven't the slightest idea. You see the Party . . . If Joe was working with the Party, it was completely . . . He wasn't an open member.
You see the whole thing had been such a big conglomeration of people. And as I say the only actual Communists among these 1500 people—there may have been some that were Communists that I didn't know about—was Jane and Dolly and Rob Hall. And Rob Hall, as I told you, is now a Rockefeller Republican. And both Dolly and Jane are dead. Of course there was a big fight that was going on between the socialists in Arkansas, you know, the sharecroppers, and the ones here in Tallapoosa County, who were Communists. There were undertones of that because I remember this guy I never cared for—a big socialist—McAlister. He came and asked me one afternoon to take me home. You know, he was warning

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me against people—Joe Gelders and saying that there were Communists there, and we had to be careful to see that nobody on the committee . . .
Socialists and Communists were the same thing to me. As far as I was concerned, they were both Bolsheviks. The fact is, as I say, I thought everybody who was a member of a union was a Bolshevik. You know I was so at the point of political ignorance at that point, that all these divisions. I still thought in terms, you know, of the New Deal and the people fighting the unions and fighting the poll tax. But all this intricate stuff about who was a Trotskyite and who was a [unknown] and who was a Communist and who was a socialist and who belonged this block—it went over my head like the wind because I didn't know what . . . it didn't interest me and I didn't know what they were talking about. What I was trying to do was get rid of the poll tax. I thought that was the first step to getting the South freed of all these terrible burdens it had. I was very strong for the labor unions because I had seen the suffering out in Ensley and Pratt City and so on. So I was strong for the unions. But that esoteric politics was over my head, at that point. I finally got on to it.
SUE THRASHER:
You had to learn.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I learned. It used to bore me to death, because as I said I always felt exactly like, are you going to get to heaven by dipping or sprinkling or total immersion. You know I'd been brought up in that all my life, so it seemed to me exactly the same thing. I didn't see any difference in it at all because here they were talking about building a new society a utopia where everybody would have peace and plenty and love each other, you know, like heaven. But by God if you weren't dipped, you'd never get there. If you were sprinkled, you wouldn't get there. Or total immersion. Or then there used to be the foot-washing Baptists, do you remember that? If you didn't have your feet washed, you'd never get to heaven. You see, having been brought up in the Presbyterian Church, you know, and going through all of Daddy's troubles about Jonah and the whale and walking on the water. I must have irritated them very much too, because I thought a lot of it was very amusing. I used to think it was a joke. I really

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thought it was silly, and I still think a lot of it was just the silliest thing in the world. Just the way I get upset today about all these fights among this handful of people whether they're Octoberists or revisionists or this that and the other. You know the whole thing to me seemed silly. Maybe I'm wrong about it. But you see I went through that all the years of my life when Daddy was a preacher. I used to hear . . . I think that Christianity has been ruined by theology, very much of it has been, don't you agree?
SUE THRASHER:
Tell me what you mean by that.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I mean the teachings of religion, not Jesus Christ and Judaism, every religion that you know, even the Asiatic religions or any religion that I've ever studied. When I was at Wellesley, you know, you had to take Bible, and you studied comparative religions. This was part of the required course. But it seemed to me the essential point of every religion that I've ever studied is to treat each other . . . you know, the golden rule, treat people like you want them to treat you. But it seems to me that is the essence of religion, is to treat other people as you would have them treat you. Well, very few people ever accomplish that, but I think the theology, whether the Buddha has four arms or two, or whether you bathe in the river or whether you have foot-washing Baptists. Why up there in Mentone, Alabama you see I'd gone to the Holy Roller meetings, and I'd seen people let themselves be bitten by snakes and picking up hot lamp chimneys and drinking poison green. You know we used to go to these Holy Roller meetings up there all the time, just as a joke really. It was all these crazy country folk from way back in the mountains. We would sit there, and they'd let themselves be bitten by snakes. You never saw them handle the snakes? Scariest thing you ever saw. Scared me out of my wits. I'd get out of there as quick as I could when they started handling the snakes. The idea was that the spirit of God was with you and nothing would hurt you. And the snake couldn't bite you and hot lamp chimney couldn't burn you and the poison green couldn't poison you. And then they'd get the jerks. They'd dance before the Lord, you know. They'd have these movements where they'd get up and dance. Have you ever seen them roll? You know they would finally get so possessed

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by the spirit they'd roll on the floor, and really, you know, just roll from side to side and scream and yell, you know. It always came on in the lay-by period after crops had been gathered, at the end of August, usually, before they started picking the cotton and the corn. There was always a period in there when they had revivals and Holy Roller meetings.
SUE THRASHER:
You think that was the only time of year they did that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That was the only time I was there. You see I was at Mentone. I'd go to Mentone State June, July, and August, maybe a little bit in September. But Holy Roller meetings never would start until the end of the summer because everybody was working, you know, in the cotton or the corn crop. What I was saying was, the divisions in the Christian religion have, I think, obscured and ruined almost, very badly hurt the meaning of Christianity, of all religions. Every religion that you look into is really founded on a worship of one god who is the father of all mankind and the idea is to treat each other like you'd like people to treat you. Now that's my idea of religion. But you see being brought up in the Presbyterian Church, and my father a preacher and having him thrown out of the church because he didn't believe in Jonah and the whale or walking on the water. You know, I just couldn't ever believe that you got to heaven because you told your beads four times or because you had your feet washed or because you were sprinkled or dipped or totally immersed. Did you ever believe it?
SUE THRASHER:
No, I don't think so.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well maybe you did, but anyway so much of the political agitation that goes on today seems to me very much like the great fights in . . . instead of the fights being in the church whether you're going to get to spiritual heaven and be sitting on the right hand of god and you know play the harp and forever live in bliss. You know we saw last night on the TV that movie on King Henry VIII. Here was this old brutish lecher changing the whole church and changing all the rules of the church just so he could get another wife. But my point is that today I think people don't believe as much, I mean a lot of people don't believe as much as they did that after you die you're going to heaven if you do right and tell your beads

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and so on. I think they want heaven on earth. I mean they want to get their share while they're alive. But instead of working together or trying to figure things out so that people will have a fair share, you know, and won't suffer all . . . I think a lot of people are working on that, but then there are so many people that are working on it against it, and then the people that are working for it do it in such different ways. I don't suppose I'm making any sense to you.
SUE THRASHER:
Let's go back, though, to the Southern Conference meeting. Were you aware of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union being at that meeting. Did you meet H. L. Mitchell and Butler and any of those people?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I think I did but I don't remember it. I don't remember any of that particularly. See, I was really concentrating on this poll tax and getting the vote and getting the women to vote. I had a lot more, as time went on and I had such a good husband, a lot of my feeling about the position of southern women kind of . . . I'm for it, I mean, but I don't see how those same passionate feelings about it. But as I grew up I really had passionate feelings about the way southern girls were treated and the position I was in and if you were smart and went to college it was supposed to be bad for you because men liked dumb women, you know. My aunt, I remember, would say, don't discuss books with boys now that always scares them off.
SUE THRASHER:
Let's go back to the meeting now. What else can you remember about that meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I just remember . . . I remember Clark Foreman being very active. Alton Lawrence was elected the secretary. Alton was a young fellow from North Carolina, I believe, who was going into the ministry at the University of North Carolina and then he went into the labor unions and we was working for the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, which was a kinda of a left-wing union. He was a very sweet fellow and he married a girl who was off a picket line. She was a very firebrand, you know, union girl. And then I think he got to be the secretary. Or maybe it was a boy named Howard Lee from Arkansas. He was a great admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt's, and he finally shot himself; did you know that? Committed suicide and had her picture

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by his bed when he killed himself. That's a strange story, isn't it? He was a big country boy. He'd been inspired by Claude Williams from Arkansas. His name was Howard Lee. He was a dedicated kind of guy. You see at that time a lot of these boys who would have gone, like you, would have gone into being preachers and missionaries went into the labor movement. And then I remember Tex Dobbs; do you remember him? Well, he came from Texas, and he was a good-looking fellow and all the women were wild about him. He had a pretty wife named Polly Dobbs. And she's dead now, too. I don't know what happened to Tex. He went through the war and was decorated very highly. He was one of Mrs. Roosevelt's favorites for a long time. Because in addition to the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, they started something called the Youth Conference, Southern Youth Conference.
SUE THRASHER:
Now was Tex Dobbs at the Birmingham conference?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I believe he was but I don't remember him. Southern Youth Conference. Helen Fuller was very active in that, but she'd dead now too. Do you remember her; she was with the New Republic for so long. She got drinking pretty bad, I'm afraid. Well don't put that in because poor Helen had a hard time. No, you see I was mostly . . . In the first place, some of my old friends, I remember, took me out to lunch, and they gave me, well, Virginia, you go back to Washington and leave us with all this. It won't be long before we can't walk on the streets, you know . . . They really were scared to death.
SUE THRASHER:
Of black people?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They were scared to death of the whole Southern Conference. They were scared to death of all these unions. They were scared to death of all these unions. They were scared to death of everything being changed. And they were blaming me for it. It was tough.
SUE THRASHER:
There was a lot of strong union participation in it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh my yes. John L. Lewis, you see, had come in and gotten . . . Miss Lucy, you see, was representing John L. Lewis, and she'd gotten all the unions in there.
There were union people there from all over. And there were the Negro people there. The leader of the union people was Bill Mitch, who was the head of the United Mine Workers in Birmingham—he was one of the main people in it too. He'd gotten his orders from Lewis. But you see the CIO was just coming South and

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I'm sure Lewis must have put up some of the money for this, because he was the only one I know that had any money. But Bill Mitch was a sweet guy. He was the head of the mine workers in Birmingham. He's dead now too, but his son's alive. I don't know him.
SUE THRASHER:
Isn't his son one of Hugo Jr.'s law partners?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, but they fell out I think. They've split up. That's when Hugo went to Miami. I don't think he's active very. But Donald Comer even came to those meetings and General Persons of the First National Bank. It started out being, you know . . .
SUE THRASHER:
General who?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Persons. He was the president of the First National Bank at that time, in Birmingham. It was a very broad group of people. Then after all the attacks on us and this vicious woman—whose name I can't remember.
SUE THRASHER:
Donald Comer was a textile . . . ?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, he was head of the textile union, I mean of the textile work, the Comer Mills. He was one of the greatest industrialists in Alabama. But he had been sort of New Dealish. And General Persons, you see, they had gotten the money for the bank. So there was a good deal of support. And there was a lot of support for doing away with the unequal freight rates. So there was a strong . . . But they all fell away in time. But Alton Lawrence fell away too. You know he's got a shop in Birmingham now. Some people say it's on account of his wife. She got scared to death. Alton . . . I just don't know what the reasons are. I think maybe it was his wife. Anyway I know he just stopped having anything to do with anybody that'd ever been in the union movement even. He just fell out entirely.
SUE THRASHER:
How did you feel? Talk some about the way you reacted to the big meeting and seeing everybody like that, whether or not you were scared by the fact that Bankhead didn't come that night.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
John Bankhead's not coming didn't bother me. I was scared in a way. But I was thrilled. It was like a revival meeting, you know. It was like a —they used to call them, you know, it was a love meeting. All of a sudden you felt like you were not by yourself. There were all these other people with you, you know. It was a feeling of joy, of being thrilled. After all, you know, when you have the wife of the President of the United States and

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the Supreme Court Justice. You know, you had a lot of support. And John L. Lewis. You had a feeling of support. And the Negro people, Mrs. Bethune, certainly gave me a feeling of support; she was a remarkable character. I was very much impressed with her and we became friends after that. No, I had a feeling of joy. It was thrilling to me; it was a marvelous occasion; I was absolutely delighted with it. The attack by that woman whose name I can't remember, vicious woman; I hate that stuff, you know, all of that nigger-white women business. When they drag that out, it always makes me sick and throw up at my stomach. It's just so disgusting, you know. To think that a Negro man and a white woman can't even sit in the same hall together to determine whether they can vote or not without having all that stuff dragged in. She was a vicious woman. I wish I could remember her name, but I can't. It'll come to me. Almost everybody that left there had the same feeling of finally getting together and joyousness. It was the New Deal come South, if you know what I mean. There was a meeting of the whole Roosevelt New Deal all coming South at one place. But you had the feeling of support from the . . . You see that's a thing that you all never even had as strong as we did in the civil rights fight; you never had that feeling of support. You see, we knew that Eleanor just had to pick up the telephone and to call Franklin. You see, I just don't that you all have ever had that feeling of having the government on your side, that you had the power of the United States government on your side. And that your enemies may be trying to get at you, but after all you had the United States government with you. When reading this book of Jeremy Brecker's and seeing the helplessness and how the United States government immediately sent the Army in or the National Guard or the militia. See, Bull Connor, in spite of all the police and the Black Marias, while it made us nervous, in a way, we never were afraid of it because we knew that he was not going to arrest the wife of the President of the United States and he's not going to arrest the Supreme Court Justice. You see the law of Alabama was at that time that

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you had to be segregated in a public building, so we obeyed the law, you see. We segregated except Mrs. Roosevelt. She was the only one refused to.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, now what came up there about the laws; was there any move to . . . pass a resolution?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yeah, there were a lot of resolutions. There was a lot of agitation and resolutions passed about that, about, you know, the segregation. But the main, the driving energy behind it all were the unions. You see, the unions were coming South and people were being organized into unions. And they thought that all the fighting against them and all the being put in jail and held incommunicado and being killed and beaten and all was due to the fact that the sheriffs and the police and everybody else, they were not accountable to them because they didn't have the vote. So the idea was to get the vote, to get some power.
I suppose the thing in my life that has been the hardest to accept and to rationalize and to be cheerful about—I try to make the best of it—is the fact that after all the struggles we did to get the vote and after all the struggles we did to get women to vote, we got Lurleen Wallace and George Wallace. I mean here the people of the South were freed, they did get the right to vote. The black people got the right to vote, the white people got the right to vote. And even they come down and illiterates got the right to vote, under these federal laws. And who do they elect? They elected some of the sorriest characters in the world. This has been the thing that I've had to cope with as well as I possibly can. I hate to think the southern people are just naturally stupid. But it seems to me that for generations they just cut their own throat. They just seem to have a perfect genius for cutting their own throats. Here they march off to the Civil War not owning a slave, you know, and millions of them go off and get killed. For what? You know, because somebody else could own slaves and have a big white plantation and be rich. And what was it to them? Not a damn thing, and yet they go off and die for it. Well, they're doing the same thing; here they get the vote; they're free. And who do they vote for. They vote for George Wallace or they vote for

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some guy in Mississippi, who is . . . You know, you can't believe it. If you say that you can't believe that the southern people are just naturally stupid. Or course they vote for pretty lousy characters in North, East, South, and West, too. But it seems to me in the South we can pick some of the most. Look at Jim Eastland. He gets elected year after year after year in Mississippi when the people in Mississippi can vote. Now how can you figure that one? What's your explanation of it?
SUE THRASHER:
I don't have one.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, you've got to have some. I mean, there must be some reason for it. Do you think it's because they just get the wrong information? Anyway, if you had the rich and the poor. Say the rich voted for one group, and the poor. But it's not that at all. The poor vote for the rich. And this is the thing that I think makes it so puzzling about the South: that is the poor man will vote for the guy that representing the rich man and fooling him by saying he's for them when he's not for them at all.
SUE THRASHER:
It obviously has a lot to do with education. People get the vote but then they don't know how to use it. It's manipulative; it's bought.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, but there're millions and millions and millions of people in the South. Now they're free. The women are free to vote. And the men are free to vote. And the blacks are free to vote. Eighteen-year-olds are free to vote. I think it's because people are beginning . . . I think they are confused and maybe they're ignorant. But I think people have lost faith in democratic government. I don't think that they think it makes any difference who you have, that you're still going to have a few rich men controlling everything anyway. I mean I don't think . . . they've gotten to the point where they think democratic government is useless; they're helpless with it. This is the sad thing, I think. They don't think there's any use in voting. When you fight, bleed, and die to get the eighteen-year-old vote and about 2% of them vote. No, I think we're living in an age where between the movies and the TV and the papers and all, the people want a decent life. In other words, they want a house and they want an automobile and they want good medical service and they want good education. They see all

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these things they want. They want to take trips. And they don't think that politics has anything to do with that. Because they promise and promise and in the end they don't get the things, so what good does it do? Now that's my theory; what's your theory?
SUE THRASHER:
Well, I pretty much agree. I think people just feel absolutely powerless. And the vote doesn't mean that much.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, that's what I feel. You know you go out and urge them to vote, and they say, what good does it do? Now the unions . . . Meany'll get up there and make a speech about the unemployment, this, that, and the other. But I can't see the unions all exercised about all the people that are out of work. I haven't lost faith. But there's a reason and that is that I think people will eventually wake up. I think it takes such terrific suffering to make them wake up. It's what I feel so bad about in this country: I think it's going to have to get so much worse before it's going to get better. And my fear is we're going to become a corporate state with just tremendous repressions. And how long that will last, I don't know. I have no idea. I just wish I knew. Cliff, you know, had much more faith in people. He had a faith in their intrinsic goodness, or their intrinsic worth, if you know what I mean. You see, he thought I was a snob, and you think so too I think, a little bit.
SUE THRASHER:
Sometimes.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
What he thought was that I wanted to help people. I really hated to see people suffering. I wanted to help people. But he thought that I really still believed that some people were a whole lot better than other people. And he didn't think it was so much on a class basis. He didn't think it was because of money or clothes or social position, but he thought that, you know ignorant people and people who had had no education and who I thought acted in a dumb way. He thought I was contemptuous of them. This is something I have to check in myself.
SUE THRASHER:
Well, I don't think it's contemptuous to ask why. It seems to me that all you do is question.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, he had more faith actually in people than I do. And he had much more tolerance of them. I'd say, well, why in the name of God would he do anything as stupid as that? You know go and vote for this Dixon fellow, this Republican, you know who's absolutely nothing, a tool of whoever pays him, whether

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its corporate interests . . . And he said, well, what can you expect of the fellow? What does he know any different? Who ever told him any different? What has he ever learned? What does he get? And he had much more tolerance. I get mad, you know. I want to shake them and pull their ears and say, stop being so dumb and cutting your own throat. It didn't do you any good to go off and fight for the slave civilization; what good is it going to do you to fight for the corporate civilization? It's the same thing, except, you know, not legal. And another thing is, too, he thought you had to be very gentle with people—you couldn't antagonize them, make them mad. What do you feel about the southern people? You grew up among them. You came from down there on the borders of Mississippi and Tennessee. Now I find the people in Elmore County like the man that was here this morning, on a personal basis they're as nice a people as I have ever known in my life. They are pleasant; they are courteous; they are gentle. And they'll help you out. When Cliff died, they came around in droves. They are nice people. On a personal basis, I like them very much. And I like living here because it's so pleasant. And yet they'll vote 94% for Richard Nixon. This is something I just can't explain. It's beyond me. Or they'll vote 98% for George Wallace.
SUE THRASHER:
Because Richard Nixon makes them believe that he's for the little man.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
How could he have made them believe that?
[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[TAPE 3, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]
SUE THRASHER:
[October 16, 1975] At the end of the last taping you had just finished covering the Southern Conference for Human Welfare meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
We went on back to Washington, of course. It wasn't

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very long after that that Joe Gelders came up and began to try to find somebody to introduce a bill in Congress to make the poll tax illegal. I told you Pat Jackson at that point was a great liberal figure in Washington, and he knew everybody. He introduced Joe to Lee Geyer—he was a congressman from California, and I've forgotten his exact district. His name was Guyer; no I believe it was Geyer. He was a very nice man; he was a very simple man. He was a man of no pretense at all, but he was a great student of American history. He was a tremendous believer in free speech and the American Constitution. And he thought that to deny the people the right to vote was a sin and a shame and an outrage. Unfortunately, he had the beginnings of a cancer of the throat, so he had difficulty sometimes speaking. It was very hard for him to speak on the floor. But he did introduce the bill. I know we've been over this; but I don't know where. And it was sent to the Judiciary Committee, and the head of the Judiciary Committee at that time, as I recall, was Congressman Hatton Sumners from Texas. And he was an old gentleman from Texas who'd been there forever and a day, and he was just the epitome of the southern conservative. I believe he even wore a frock coat. Anyway, looked like a relic of the past. Well, he did everything he could to keep the bill from ever coming to a hearing. He used every device and maneuver. But Maury Maverick was still in the Congress at that time, you see, from Texas. And Maury had agreed to be the President of the Anti-Poll Tax Committee of the Southern Conference. Maury was young, and he was lively and very bright. And he'd been injured in the war; he had a kind of a stiffness or a hunch or scar, anyway he'd been injured in the war. But he was very lively and extremely attractive. He had an attractive wife, an attractive daughter, and a lovely son. His wife was one of the cutest women I've ever seen. Her name was Terrell Maverick. After Maury died, she later married that famous man in Texas that wrote the great history, you know, folk historian—John Henry Faulks always talked about him; he was his idol. But he was a very . . . And then she had a daughter named Terrelita, that's the diminutive, you know, for Terrell.

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And they had a son named Maury Maverick who's also a liberal lawyer in Texas. And the Mavericks had come from Virginia, and they were kin in some way to Maury Fontaine, you know, the famous geographer. Well, there was a famous geographer whose name was either Fontaine Maury or Maury Fontaine—this is the kind of thing Cliff would have a fit about. Well, I can look up his name in the Biographical Dictionary; but he's a famous geographer. They had all, these Mavericks, had moved South to Texas and taken up, you know, vast quantities of land. The reason the cattle were called maverick cattle, you know, was because they would wander from group to group. In other words, they had so many cattle that they didn't keep up with them. And there were just a lot of stray cattle around that the Mavericks claimed. The Mavericks were famous, and still are, famous family. And probably you know Harvey and Jessie O'Connor. Well, she was a Maverick that came from the Maverick tribe. Her father was a Lloyd, one of the Lloyd, David Demarest Lloyd—he was the famous millionaire socialist.
SUE THRASHER:
He was from Chicago, wasn't he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Chicago. And he made a great fortune in something—Chicago Tribune, because when I was there this summer, I was sitting there eating lobster, and Jessie apologized to a great degree because the money came from the Chicago Tribune. But she said her great, great grandfather bought the Chicago Tribune, bought shares in it to support Lincoln. But the shares are still there, and they're worth a great deal of money. Anyway, the Maverick family, Maury wasn't scared of hell or high water. He was a very bumptious guy; I don't mean bumptious in the sense of being unpleasant, but you know, he was full of vim and vigor and he wasn't scared of anybody. So he got old Hatton Sumners to hold the hearings. And you know the evidence was all there—the fact that not more than 12% of the voting population voted in Virginia and 13% in Mississippi, maybe. You must get hold of Jennings Perry's book, where he was all the figures in it. You know Jennings Perry of Nashville, don't you. You know he for a while was president of the anti-poll tax committee and he wrote a book on the fight against the poll tax, which is very good. It never got much coverage, but it's called The Right to Vote, I believe. Anyway it's an extremely good book. I had a letter from Jennings yesterday. Try to keep me to the track, because you know I go off on these sidelines. Let's not go into Jennings.

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The point I'm making is, the facts were absolutely incontrovertible. That is, that since the disenfranchising provisions of the early 1900's starting with Mississippi, that the vote in the South had gone down, down, down—both black and white. The South at this time, which was about 1938, you see, was just absolutely, had this extremely small vote. The defense of the people who were arguing against all this was that people in the South just weren't interested in voting. They just didn't care about it. You know, there was just a complete lack of interest. I'm sure this was 1938; I haven't gotten that date mixed up. But I don't think the hearing was actually held until sometime in 1939. Anyway, Hatton Sumners never would have them printed. Clark Foreman testified and Maury Maverick testified, and a whole lot of other people testified. But Hatton Sumners never would print the hearings. They just absolutely refused to print the hearings. And Hatton Sumners was a man of so much prestige and power in the House, you see. You see the southerners controlled most of the big . . . they'd stayed there so long doing to the fact that they had this small vote. They stayed there forever and a day and so they got old and older and older. They were 70 and 80 and on and they'd just been in Congress 30 and 40 years. And they just ran the show. So we never got that one printed. Well, Lee Geyer would make speeches in the House for it. We were still working out of his office. The thing that helped us a great deal was, up above us in the building the old House Office Building, was the Tolan Committee. Now that was the committee of Congress that was investigating agriculture and Appalachia and poverty. There were a lot of really brilliant young fellows on it who were just out of school and were very full of zeal. They were really dedicated. They were going to eradicate Appalachia's, the poverty of Appalachia. And I believe Tolan himself came from West Virginia. He was a

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congressman. These boys were very bright and were very nice to us. You see, there was just such a varied group that worked in the poll tax office; we'd pick up here there and yonder people who'd come through town or . . . I was sort of the only one that was more or less there on a . . . Wilbur Cohen's wife used to help out. Wilbur Cohen's the one, you know, who . . . He was the author of the Social Security work. Her name was Eloise. She was a very pretty, red-headed girl, and she used to come in and work. There were a lot of volunteers that would come in and out. But it was not very well organized because we would send out material and try to interview congressmen, but it was a very amateurish organization. No one working full time except Lee Geyer's nephew, who was Lee Geyer's secretary. And at least he would take care of the mail. And he would occasionally answer letters that had to be answered. He was named Geyer, too, but I can't remember his name. He was a very nice boy. But then these boys from up in the Tolan Committee they began to take an interest in it and particularly Palmer Webber. He had just graduated from the University of Virginia where he had been a very brilliant scholar and had thought he was going to get a Rhodes scholarship, but didn't. And he got very much interested in the anti-poll tax fight, because you see he came from Virginia, that had the lowest number of voters of anybody. You know the Byrd machine was in entire control. And he had a friend whose name was David Carliner, and he'd been to the University of Virginia with Palmer. But he'd had some trouble, whose nature I forget at this point. And he didn't have a job, so he agreed to come in and run the office. He's now a big-shot lawyer in Washington. Have you all ever been to see him? He won't give you anything? Anyway, he was a very nice fellow and smart as he could be. But the thing was that these boys all knew things like mimeographing, you know, the technical things that I didn't know from Adam. We'd send out the poll-tax news. At this date I can't tell you the exact dates. And you know so much of this stuff we threw away because we moved around, you know. You see, we never thought of ourselves, that we were ever going to be interviewed for history forty years later.

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We were desperately trying to pay the postage, not take up too much room in Mr. Geyer's office.
So gradually around the anti-poll tax office of the Southern Conference, there grew up quite a group of people. There was a very attractive, brilliant boy from Ohio named Fred Sweet. And he's dead now. Oh, I wish I could remember their names. If I could get the Tolan Committee names they'd come to me because they all helped out.
SUE THRASHER:
Did Fred Sweet work on the Tolan Committee?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think he did for a while, but he was a very good writer and he could write very well. We would send out this anti-poll tax news, you know, far and wide. And then we would go and see the congressmen.
And I was younger in those days, considerably younger, you can imagine. Let's see, this was 1938, so I was about 35. I was a good deal better looking than I am now, too. So I was subjected for the first time to the senators and the congressmen. You know... well, we won't get into that. You know to be a senator or congressman you had to have a rather large ego because it takes an awful lot of work and strength and vitality and insult and vigor.
SUE THRASHER:
Well now, let's do get into that. What would happen when you'd go to their offices?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, frequently they'd chase you around the desk.
SUE THRASHER:
Literally?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, sometimes just literally. You'd see this large mountain of a man rise up, coming towards you, and you'd back toward the door. They were all men of strong sexual urges I would say. But you know you really couldn't take it personally because it was rather universal. And you didn't feel like you were being particularly distinguished for any unusual charms or beauty. It was just that, you know, you were female. But that was something that you had to get used to. And fair game, absolutely. Well, I was protected in a way, more so than some of the other girls who had rather more disastrous experiences because you see I was Hugo Black's sister-in-law and Clifford Durr's wife. Well, Clifford Durr you see was on the RFC and on the FCC in both of which positions he could refuse or give a radio station or a TV grant or a loan of money. So that was considerable restraint. And I don't say that every single congressman and senator's office

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you went into, you know, began chasing you around the office, but this is just one of the hazards of working on the Hill. So, some of our young ladies that we would send out to lobby would come back considerably disheveled. It was such a joke though, because some of the biggest senators—McKellar of Tennessee was one of the worst and he must have been 88 or 89. Anyway, boy, Senator McKellar he was like an old bird dog. He'd just see a woman come in the room and he was right after her. And he must have been 87. I swear I believe he was. But anyway we began to lobby on the Hill and do all the things you have to do to get a bill through. And I still kept my connections with, you know, Mrs. Roosevelt and with the Democratic Women's Committee.
And by this time the Southern Conference had had another meeting the following year after the '38 one, which must have been '39, in Chattanooga. And at that time this tremendous fight had broken out between the isolationists and the interventionists. So that meeting was just really fighting between the interventionists and the isolationists, people wanting to go to war with Hitler and the ones that didn't. I was one of the ones that wanted to go to war with Hitler.
SUE THRASHER:
Did it split the Conference badly?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, yeah, there was a lot of bad feeling, but the strange thing was, I took Kathryn Lewis down. You see, I'd gotten to be a good friend of hers by that time, John L.'s daughter. And she had gotten out all the miners to come and vote against any interventionist resolution. But they were bored to death with all the kind of wrangling that went on. So when the time came to vote, I believe the interventionists won. But Kathryn and I argued the matter at great length, but of course she was an isolationist. Her father was a great friend and follower of Mr. Wheeler. It shows you how they split things, because you know that was the senator from Montana, Burton Wheeler, who had been a great liberal in his youth and who had fought the Anaconda Copper Company. And his daughter Frances Wheeler got to be the secretary of the anti-poll tax committee. She was our first secretary. And the way we got hold of her: her sister was a friend of mine, lived right near me. And Frances was looking for a job; she'd just gotten out

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of Mount Holyoke. And she was wanting to get into the labor movement. And she went to Mr. John L. Lewis to get a job in the Mine Workers and they refused to hire women. So that made her sore. And so she came to work for the anti-poll tax committee. She was an absolutely brilliant girl. She stood up to her father. She was an interventionist, really far more radical than he was.
SUE THRASHER:
Why was John L. Lewis opposed to it because Wheeler was opposed to it? What's the connection?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, he and Wheeler were like this; both of them were isolationists. They were against the United States getting involved in the Second World War, you see. They were both very strong isolationists. They both played around, you know, they were very much opposed to Roosevelt. They were just both of them despised and hated Roosevelt. After '36, you see, John L. Lewis thought after he'd given all that money to Roosevelt that Roosevelt was going to do what he said, but he didn't. And so he and Roosevelt became very bitter enemies, John L. Lewis and Roosevelt. Burton Wheeler was a great enemy of Roosevelt's and he was also an isolationist. The isolationist interventionist thing did begin to split the Southern Conference but I was still, you know, hell bent on the anti-poll tax thing. So Frances Wheeler got another job and then there was another very nice girl who came in there—I can't remember her name now; it'll come to me. And by this time we were getting some support. You see, John L. Lewis was supporting us then and giving us money, the anti-poll tax fight. And the CIO unions were giving us money and support. I remember having a very nice conversation with Sidney Hillman, who gave us money and support. And the Maritime Workers—Joe Curren was head of it. He was a devout Catholic. But he gave us support, so much money. They gave us so much money a month, you know. And then John Abt was head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, I mean the general counsel, so he got us some money from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. They were very nice. And we got money from some of the AF of L unions but not very much. See, they were so mad about, they hated Lewis so. There'd

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been that big split in the labor movement, so whatever Lewis supported, they wouldn't support. So occasionally some of them would come to the anti-poll tax meetings, but they weren't much help. In fact they weren't any help at all that I can remember except messing things up and making trouble.
But Lee Geyer died. He finally died of this cancer of the throat. And then the big question was, who to get to sponsor the bill. By this time you see we had a board, composed of . . . the labor unions were supporting us, and the NAACP, and the Negro Elks, and a lot of the Christian organizations, the church organizations, the Methodists and the Baptists. You see on Capital Hill there was a real big lobby group, that lobbied all the time. Of course it wasn't so big on those days as it is now, I'm sure. And all the liberal organizations, like the Quakers and the Baptists and the Methodists and the NAACP and Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune's organization—the Council of Negro Women. And the newspaper men—they were our great allies and helps. A lot of us would have lunch together every day. It was lots of fun, one thing, you see, because the Hill was a lot of fun. The funny stories and what was happening on the Hill and the struggle between the isolationists and interventionists. And then see most of the liberals were interventionists until then they had the great split you know when they had the Nazi-Soviet pact, and then a lot of the extreme left-wingers went over on the other side. And then that developed into real fights, I mean yelling and screaming and almost tearing each other's hair out. But the Hill was a very lively place in those days and loss of fun. And I can't remember all the names of the newspaper men that helped us—oh, Izzy Stone of course. Izzy was absolutely wonderful. And he was working for the Nation, the PM then. Izzy was a great newspaper man, as you know. You see the TV and radio hadn't come on then, and there weren't a lot of TV and radio people about. It was the newspapers.
SUE THRASHER:
What kind of support were you getting in Congress at this time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was still in a state of flux. We were trying to get . . . You see what we were representing in the Board of the Southern, I mean of the Poll Tax Committee—and by the way at one meeting, whether it was in Chattanooga or in Nashville, I believe, they, we decided to make the National

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Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax separate from the Southern Conference. In other words, the Southern Conference would be a member of it, but it would be no longer be the Poll Tax Committee of the Southern Conference. It would be the National Committee to abolish the Poll Tax. And I think George Norris suggested. . . You see, George Norris had become our great champion in the Senate and he was one of the most wonderful characters that ever lived, a perfectly angelic man. He was from Nebraska. He's one of the greatest men that ever served in the Senate. He was just a monument of integrity. You see he was trying to get the TVA nationalized and turned into . . . He was a great advocate of the TVA power. And that's one reason he was so interested in getting rid of the poll tax, because he felt that the people in the TVA area didn't have a right to vote on whether you could get the TVA or not. But he was a white-haired old gentleman and he was absolutely a lovely man, just a wonderful, wonderful man. And then in the House Maury Maverick you see had been beat and was now mayor of San Antonio. So we were trying to get someone who would be respectable and carry . . . Of course by this time the anti-Communist business had started.
SUE THRASHER:
Now was that why you separated the poll tax committee from the . . . ?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, it was just . . . The poll tax committee had gotten bigger than the Southern Conference. In other words, the National Committee against the poll tax was a national organization by that time and much larger because the labor unions realized that they were not going to get anywhere in the South until they got their people to voting. Then the church people thought it was the right thing to do. And the NAACP and the Negro organizations had joined us. Of course they thought the Negroes were held in bondage until they got the vote. And a lot of the women's organizations—the only one that never would support us at all was that women's group or women's party or something. They never would help us at all. They were all—Alice Paul and all those women. They were just—I don't know what made them the way they were because they wouldn't do a thing for us, thought we were totally unimportant. They were working to get women's rights. It was that bill, you know, under the constitution, to give equal rights to women in everything. I

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thought they were the most unpolitical people, in the sense of reality. That's all long gone past now. But anyway they never did give us any help. University women didn't give us very much help either because they're always very cautious and had to have meetings and pass ten resolutions before they'd do anything. The League of Women Voters was the same way. They believed in it but they didn't want to take action until they'd had the next meeting. Anyway, they never gave us much help. The help we got came from the Roosevelt coalition, which was the unions, the civil liberties and civil rights organizations, and the churches. And then you see we got an awful lot of support from the White House itself.
SUE THRASHER:
Who were the civil rights organizations that you were in touch with at that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, there was the NAACP. There was a Negro Elks; they were powerful. Then there was the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union.
SUE THRASHER:
Who were some of the leaders in these groups that you came into contact with?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Morris Ernst was the one I had the most trouble with. He was a lawyer from New York and an extremely brilliant fellow who had the great reputation for being a great civil liberties lawyer. And he was active in the ACLU. So I had never met him and he called me up one day and said he was down from New York and that he knew some friends of mine that I'd been at Wellesley with named Hellman, Jane Hellman. So he asked me out to lunch. A very charming fellow and he'd come from Alabama and his people had come from over here in Demopolis. They came from Germany, you know, and landed I think in Savannah or New Orleans. Came from Demopolis or Uniontown. They're kin to Marie Pake. Well she's a great friend of mine. She's kin to all those Morris Ernst's family. She's from Montgomery. I didn't meet Morris Ernst through her. He came to see me to warn me against the infiltration of the Communists. And that we never would get anywhere unless we got rid of . . . Oh my Lord, he had a list. Of course Joe Gelders. If we had anything to do with Joe Gelders we were ruined, you know. Joe was in the Army at the time, I believe. But in any case he was just absolutely livid on the subject of Joe

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Gelders, getting rid of him. And then the Furriers contributed a little money to us, and they were an out-and-out Communist union. I mean the head was a Communist.
SUE THRASHER:
Who was the head at the time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
His name was Greenblass or Greengold, I forget it. Anyway you know they all worked down there. They all spoke very strong accents and they'd learned their trade in Europe. They just gave us a little money by the way, maybe 25 dollars a month or something like that, because they thought it was a good cause. The head of it was a Communist. And well, Morris Ernst couldn't have anything to do with them. And then there was something called the Cooks and Stewards, I believe, the Marine Cooks and Stewards. For some reason I never heard of them. But they were dangerous, and Morris Ernst had to get rid of them. In fact, Morris Ernst . . . we had to get rid of about everybody on the Board. I mean, about half of them, to suit him. I said to him, look, we've only got one rule and that is that everybody that supports the anti-poll tax bill can send a representative to the board, and that's our rule, and that's the only rule we've got. So we're going to stick by it. Oh, he said that the ILGWU, Dubinsky would give us a lot of money if we'd get rid of these other people. Dubinsky never had given us any money. But he knew Dubinsky very well and so Dubinsky would give us a lot of money if we'd get rid of all these other people. Well of course he was dealing with somebody who was pretty dumb, you know, about all the distinctions in the unions in New York. I really wasn't up on the latest factions. And it irritated me considerably. I can just remember getting really irritated. But we never got any money from Dubinsky, never gave us a dime.
SUE THRASHER:
And that's because you were hobnobbing with the Communists?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, we were hobnobbing with . . . As I say, the head of the Furriers was a Communist. And I believe the head of the Marine Cooks and Stewards was, as I recall. And then in the Maritime Union there was a West Indian, and his name was Ferdinand Smith, and he was a Communist. They threw him out later on, you know, when all the big splits came. He was a very gentlemanly man, very nice man.

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You see, they didn't give us a whole lot of money. These unions would give us maybe $25 or $50 a month. Now John L. Lewis was the one that gave us the most money. You see Kathryn and I were real good friends. We lived there in Alexandria. So John L. Lewis was smart enough to see the southern situation, the southern oligarchy was ruining all the unions, you know, keeping them from organizing. And he was head of the CIO, and he was sending students up to Miles all the time.
SUE THRASHER:
Now Lewis at this point wasn't bothered about the Communists?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was using them. He wouldn't let them in the union. You know there was a very strong bar against Communists in the union, that is in the Mine Workers. But there were a lot of young Communists at that time. You see there was the depression, was still going bad, and a lot of people, young people particularly, thought the capitalist system was done for. And so Communism was the new rising form of government, and they were dedicated like the civil rights workers were, so Lewis was cynical enough just to send them South and let them be the kind of shock troops, anyway let them be killed and beat up and put in jail and do all the dirty work, you know.
Well, one of the things that saved me, in a way, from being involved in all this was that as I said, my life was lived on so many different levels. On my personal life, I lived at the Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary. I went to the Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary every Sunday for church. I belonged to the Ladies Auxiliary. My children played all around the grounds. These were the Virginia gentility, if you know what I mean. So my personal life was based on a neighborhood and a group of people who couldn't have been less radical in any way, shape, or form. And they were lovely, sweet, Christian people, but they were not engaged in any—well, the New Deal was still a radical thing to them. And of course they had no Negroes at the Seminary, and they had no Negro students you know. So then, through Cliff being on the RFC and then on the FCC, he was always in a position to do people big favors or not do them big favors. In other words he had power, the power to give them loans or not loans, or give them a radio frequency or

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not a radio frequency. So that too was a protection. And then you see things were so split up.
There was Burton Wheeler, who was an isolationist. He was also head of the Senate committee on communications, you know; I forget the name of it. It was the thing that controlled the FCC, controlled transportation and communication of all kinds. And there his daughter, who was at odds with her father, who was secretary of the poll tax committee. Well, you can see things in those days were pretty mixed up. We're about 1939 now. I'm trying to stick to this one main line of what happened to the poll tax, because if I went into all of the side lines, we'd be here forever. By the time Frances Wheeler . . . we had gotten this office, you see, through her, in the railway building, where the railway unions had their headquarters. Because Burton Wheeler, you see, was head of the committee in the Senate to control the railroads. And the man that was head of the railroad union . . . he was a lovely man; he came from Colorado. And they got out a paper every month. Anyway, he gave us all this space in this railway building free on account of the fact that Frances went and asked him and he was a geat friend of her father, Burton Wheeler. So we had offices and telephones. They would print out sheets, and they were for us, were behind the anti-poll tax bill. They were just perfectly lovely to us. They couldn't have been any nicer. But a big trouble developed, which I think I told you about. The whites wanted the Negro firemen fired because they wanted their jobs. This is too complicated about when they changed to diesel engines there was a big fight in the unions getting rid of the Negro fireman who had been shoveling in the coal. So a lot of the railway men, particularly the southern ones, would come in to the railway office and see all these Negroes working at typewriters, and working on the anti-poll tax bill and being there as representatives of organizations, and they wouldn't like it. And they complained about them using the bathrooms, same old thing, you know. They didn't like that. So we had to move out finally. It made it so disagreeable for the people who were giving us these free offices.
SUE THRASHER:
I still want to get these other organizations in,

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the people you were working with. You said the guy from how about the NAACP?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Clarence Mitchell was one of them, and then there was another sweet fellow—I can't remember his name now, and he was very nice to us. But they just were 100% for us, and they couldn't have been better.
SUE THRASHER:
Did they do a lot of lobbying?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yeah. Oh, yes they always came to the board meetings. And then there was Mrs. Bethune, you see, was the National Council for Negro Women—she always came or sent a representative—

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[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]

[TAPE 4, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]
SUE THRASHER:
You were talking about Mrs. Bethune.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Mrs. Bethune had formed something then called the Council of Negro Women. And either she came or sent a representative. And often she would come herself. And she was a tremendous help to us because she had very close affiliations you see with Mrs. Roosevelt, and with Mr. Roosevelt, too, but more with Mrs. Roosevelt, I think. And so she would help us get up money. She was a marvelous woman and a great help to us. I told you about Mrs.—the lady that was head of the Republican women there, came from Memphis, my grandfather was her guardian—Mrs. Mary Church Terrell. Well Mrs. Mary Church Terrell you see was head of the Republican Women and Black Republican Women and she lived in Washington for—she was nearly 90 then. She was a remarkable woman; she was a great help to us. She was very, very helpful to us. And then there was the Negro Elks. They were very helpful to us. And there were a lot of Negro church organizations that sent representatives and sent money. But the money, the strongest amount of help and support came from the labor organizations. And I got to know some of them very well.
SUE THRASHER:
How much of the politics of the various organizations would overlap? For instance, how much were the civil rights organizations pushing for integration affect the union. And did you get into a lot of—the railway workers and the firemen is a good example.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well yes, it was beginning to come. But of course we got into the firemen's fight very directly because they made this big fight about having all these black, Negroes—they didn't say—the niggers taking up the space in the bathrooms and all. And there was one particularly nasty man whose name I forget, came from Alabama. And he made more trouble than anybody. They were trying to get rid of the Negro firemen because the railway unions who represented them were encouraging us by giving us all this free office space and putting our paper . . . But the issue came down to, the flash point was the

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bathrooms, of all things. They made all the big fuss about using the same bathroom. So in any case we had to move out.
SUE THRASHER:
But by and large, was the coalition between the civil rights people and the labor people at that point pretty strong?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yes. And it was the Roosevelt coalition, if you know what I mean. The coalition that had been in the Southern Conference. And the bonds—there was beginning to be terrible friction—but they were still solid, if you know what I mean. There was, you see, the White House support, great gentlemen like the fellow from Raleigh—Daniels—he was working in the White House. You know, his father was the secretary of the Navy. They owned the Raleigh News-Observer. And he was working in the White House then as one of the White House attaches, or one of the White House aides. He's written a lot of books; he had a wife that writes real funny books. He would come down to get a list of people who were pro and con. Or we'd get a call from the White House: do you know how so-and-so stands? I tell you we had an absolute faith in our own government in those days, at least our Roosevelt administration. There was Mrs. Roosevelt working for us and Mr. Roosevelt working for us, and Tom Cochran working for us and Ben Cohen working for us and Ed Pritchard working for us. We were invited to the White House for lunch. We'd say, Mrs. Roosevelt, we're trying to get Claude Pepper to take on—you see George Norris got beat by some undertaker from out there in Nebraska and we were trying to get Claude Pepper to take on the job of representing the bill in the Senate. It was just, you know, it was heaven to be young, as they say, and it was also heaven to be just across from the White House and have Mrs. Roosevelt have us all to lunch. And she have people like Barry Bingham, who was a big shot, you know, or Mark Ethridge. They all supported us. Maury and Barry were just wonderful to us. We had the White House behind us; we had the government behind us, I mean the administration. So we really were riding high, wide, and handsome. Then the next thing that happened, we got Claude Pepper to represent us in the Senate, to introduce the bill, which he did year after year after year.

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SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember the first year he did it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think it was about 1939. Anyway, Claude was just absolutely marvelous. He was a wonderful orator. He'd come from Ashland, Alabama, where Hugo Black had come from you see. He and his wife Mildred were great friends of Sister and Hugo's. And Mildred was very social-minded; she loved fashionable society. I never saw them very much out in society because Cliff and our friends were not the same. But Claude was a really great man. He was a great orator and very honest, very brilliant fellow. And I have never known why he didn't—of course he had some awfully dirty deals done to him in Florida—but I never felt he rose to his full potential. He rose to a pretty high potential. He spoke at Cliff's funeral, you know, I mean at the memorial service. But he's been a devoted friend, and he's a man that I have the highest admiration for. And you see he had gotten rid of the poll tax in Florida, and it had helped him get elected, so this was not an issue that was going to hurt him in Florida, you see.
Then we began having a lot of trouble in the House because the board—you see the board at this time was all these unions and the Negro organizations, the black organizations, and the church organizations, you know, all kinds of organizations, all the lobbying organizations in Washington—or a great many of them. Now the question was, who to get to introduce the bill in the . . . And they had a meeting, and the CIO guy, who was a lobbyist on the Hill and his name was Clifford McAvoy. He was a very nice fellow indeed. He's now dead. He was a very sweet fellow. He had come from some very distinguished family in New York, that had been distinguished politically and also socially. And I remember one of the things that people had against him was that he wore a derby, that was supposed to be a tremendous sign of swank in those days and they thought a lobbyist for the CIO to wear a derby was very, very—the union people thought that was just awful. The CIO, through Clifford McAvoy, suggested we get this fellow named Baldwin, who had just been elected to the Senate. He was from what they called the silk stocking district and he was a Republican. You see by that time the House was not so heavily Democratic, and the Republicans were helping us a great deal quite

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often. Baldwin was from New York. He wore a derby too. And he had a rolled umbrella. And he was a very gentlemanly fellow and he'd been to all the best schools. So they thought that he would be just a great fellow to represent the anti-poll tax, you know. He had made no enemies; he was just coming into the House. And he was such a charming fellow, and he was with us, you know. So I thought he was a very nice fellow, too. So, Mr. Baldwin of New York, Congressman Baldwin, was selected to introduce the bill in the House.
And then we heard that a man named Vito Marcantonio, who represented the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the American Labor Party—he was elected on all three slates—that he had a bill. Well, I won't go into Marcantonio and how he blew up at us. It ended up with Vito Marcantonio introducing the bill. We became great friends in spite of . . . Because I also became a great friend of his wife, who is a lovely lady, whom he brought down to Washington. She was a tall New England girl. Anyway I became devoted friends to Vito Marcantonio and oddly enough, he and Cliff did too because they had a passion for Jefferson. They would quote Jefferson to each other by the—Marcantonio had all Jefferson and all Madison. He was both radical and democrat—I mean democratic in his views. And he was a very attractive man. He was small, you know, and very Italian and extremely vehement. Of course he was considered to be the big radical in the House. So a lot of people were scared to death for Marcantonio to introduce the bill. But you see they never could get it out of committee. They would have to sign it out. And we passed it. Marcantonio got it through the House time and time again—I can't remember how many years he got that bill signed out of committee and passed through the House. Well, you see a lot of Republicans backed it because it'd create friction within the Democratic Party. I mean, it wasn't all just pure idealism at all. But then it would always get filibustered to death in the Senate, you see. So then we get up to the time when the war is starting and big fights between the isolationists and the interventionists you see. And I was a big interventionist you know; I was all for intervening. And that created . . . Decca, you see was

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living with me then. And Esmond was just going off to the war to fight for England. And so that created some problems, particularly with the Lewises, but I really think that there again the fact that I was inconsequential if you know what I mean. I mean to say, I had no real power except getting on with all these assortment of people who were backing me. But the power, you see, lay in the unions, lay in the big organizations.
SUE THRASHER:
But you were sort of a key figure.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I was a key figure, yes. And I think I did a lot of good.
SUE THRASHER:
Does that mean that all the different factions would come to you?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Sure.
SUE THRASHER:
At one time or another so that you were sort of buffeted between them?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, sure, that's right. But the point was that I myself had no power. No organization power except through Hugo or through Cliff. But I never could have any power through Hugo because the last thing Supreme Court Justices' relatives can do is speak to them about a case, because they recuse themselves immediately and that means . . . If you were ever known to speak to your brother-in-law about a case that would be the worst thing that could happen. In fact Hugo's dinner parties, and Sister's, were pretty dull because nobody could talk about anything very much because they were always so afraid it would come before the Supreme Court. So we usually talked about roses and tennis. And sometimes Bill Douglas would get, he'd sing hymns, you know he was raised very strictly in the church and he had the most marvelous array of hymns he used to sing. But I myself as a person had no power in that I had no organizational power except through the Southern Conference and the poll tax committee, which were composed of disparate organizations. And I was a key figure, but I didn't have the money, I didn't have any power, I mean organizational power. The only power I had was I was friendly with a lot of people. I got on with them fairly well. I didn't get mad at them.
SUE THRASHER:
How were you doing in terms of learning all your political lessons, the battle between the Communists and socialists and all?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I was very much taken aback by all the meanness that went on, the way people carry on.
I was for the Spanish War, I mean I was for the Spanish Republic. To me that was a completely clear case of a legally elected government being overthrown by a bunch of

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generals. I was very passionately for the Spanish War, and that's how I got to know Decca and Esmond and how she came to . . . Because he had fought, you see, in the Spanish War and I thought he was a great hero. So I was for the Spanish War, very strongly. And I belonged to organizations for the relief of . . . They were all held at Mrs. Pinchot's, usually, Mrs. Gifford Pinchot—she was a big advocate of Spain. You know our ambassador at that time to Spain wrote such a great book and was such a splendid man. He was the ambassador and he wrote a book about it, and it's the best book I ever read on the Spanish Revolution, the Spanish War. But sure I got sore mostly at the people who red-baited so much and broke things up because it seemed to me that trying to get rid of the poll tax so that people could vote was about as American a thing as you could do. I mean I couldn't imagine anything more down . . . I thought the people who began to red-bait and put everything above this made me sore. But I thought—you know that's when Dies came into the picture, Martin Dies, began accusing everybody of being reds, and Shirley Temple and all that crazy business. I didn't take it terribly seriously because . . . And the few Communists that I knew, you see, were open-and-shut Communists. Now there might have been some that were underground Communists, but the ones I knew, like the man who was head of the furriers union—he was just an open-and-shut Communist. Being a Communist wasn't at that point wasn't equated with being a traitor or being a subversive or trying to overthrow the government by force and by violence and all. You see the big split came at the time of the war, I mean at the time of the Soviet-Nazi Pact. Then when the Communists began to talk about the phony war . . . But I got mad at them then. But there were a lot that did. Joe Gelders for instance he swallowed that whole line whole. You see they thought that France and England were trying to get Germany to fight Russia and leave them alone. And the true Communists of that era—they were different from now when there seem to be revisionists and Maoists and October League and whatever else, thousand things—at that time the true Communists, I mean who really were Communists, believed that Russia was like holy Russia. That everything had to protect holy Russia. It was

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almost like a religion. Here was the first Communist country, or the socialist country, and everything had to be sacrificed to . . . You see I wasn't a part of all that, if you understand, it was all peripheral to my life, if you know what I mean. I was a New Dealer. I was for getting in the war. And . . .
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have respect for the Communist Party people that you knew?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Some of them I did and some of them I didn't.
SUE THRASHER:
How did you feel about Russia?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well I thought Russia . . . As far as Russia was concerned I thought . . . You see Litvinov had been trying to get the democracies to combine against Hitler with Russia. And you see he got beat. I mean his whole thing was beat. Now Litvinov was a perfectly lovely man. You see I knew his wife. I told you about his wife staying next door to us. And she was named Ivy Lowe. She came from England and she was a sister of David Lowe, the famous cartoonist. Well Mrs. Ivy Lowe, or Mrs. Ivy Litvinov was one of the most attractive women I ever met in my life. She was rather stout and very funny and extremely brilliant. She was a very harmonious character, and a person that I met only socially but I liked a great deal. And I liked her husband very much the few times I met him. You see I was invited . . . At that time in the social hierarchy you got invited to the embassies as your husband went up the line. By this time Cliff was on the FCC and we got invited to the embassies. In Washington you go to the big official things in accordance with your husband's position. I suppose there're some beautiful creature and charming people that get in but usually it's very cut and dry. So when Cliff got on the FCC and became a member of the FCC we got immediately on another list. And on that list was the Russian embassy and the English embassy and a whole lot of them. But Litvinov was very hard to . . . You must have read about his fights in Geneva and trying to get the United Nations to stop Hitler. In the first place I had come from almost perfect ignorance of politics. In other words I knew Democrats and Republicans. But you know I have always been more personal than ideological, if you know what I mean. I like people for themselves more than I do . . . And sometimes they change their opinions and take on what I think are crazy ideas but I don't

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always throw them off and say they're heretics. I really like people more for themselves than—I like to agree with them, too, but I don't mind disagreeing with them. And you see I really believe that this is a southern trait in a way, some sort of a southern trait, because when you saw my husband's family there yesterday, you know, supporting him and had supported him all during the years when he was fighting against segregation, which they believed in. It's a trait of loyalty in any case. You don't just wipe people out and throw them away because you disagree with them. And it seems to me today this is what's so terrible is that if some woman or girl or man changes his mind and becomes overnight—and this is the thing you see . . .
So some of the Communists I liked and some of them I didn't like. There was one from—he'd been a professor at the University of Johns Hopkins; I can't remember his name now. He was an extremely sweet fellow. He was always giving me these great heavy books to read by Kant, Immanuel Kant. Well, I never could read them. They just didn't make sense to me at all. He was trying to win me over to the cause of Marxism but he started me out on Kant. Well, I can tell you starting out on Kant is something that's mightly hard to understand and really never got very much out of it. But he was a very sweet fellow, and I had him out to dinner. Cliff and he got in several arguments, but you see it's something we haven't had since the McCarthy days which was a feeling of absolute safety. You see this is something that has come on since McCarthyism. I was an American. It was my country. I had my administration in the White House. The wife of the President was my friend. I went to the White House for receptions. My husband was in the government. My brother-in-law was on the Supreme Court of the United States. I mean I felt perfectly safe. Who in the world could accuse me of any illegal or underhanded . . . Everything was perfectly open and outgoing. People had different ideas. You see I was either too ignorant or too safe. And I still went out in Washington society to embassy parties and so on. I was safe. And I really don't believe the country's ever felt that safe since McCarthyism. I mean I think at that point when he began that crazy business of accusing

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everybody of being a traitor, I don't believe the country's ever been that safe again. Because the United States was built on so much diversity and diverse views. And then as I said to you, I was raised in the church and good God almighty, the preachers used to sit around the table at my father's house. I was just a little girl, but I'd hear them argue way into the reaches of the night about things that seemed to me to be utterly insane, absolutely ridiculous.
SUE THRASHER:
You felt those arguments were the same as those you were hearing among the socialists and Communists?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Exactly, how are you going to get to heaven? And whether you're going to get there by foot-washing or by total immersion or by sprinkling or whether you can . . . You see when I was brought up the Catholic Church was supposed to be the whore of Rome. I remember that expression one time, the whore of Rome. I didn't know what it meant. And so I looked it up and I was quite confused, as you can imagine. But life in those days, it was after, the Second World War was over and we'd been through the depression. Things were getting better; they still were not very good, but things were happening you know and people were being fed and the land down here was being—the erosion was being helped and the boys were all planting trees and Aubrey Williams was head of the NYA and he was training all these people. There was a tremendous spirit of life and hope and advancement.
SUE THRASHER:
You had no inkling of what was to come? Did you have any hints at that time about what was going to happen?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well now, we had some hints of it through Dies, Martin Dies. You see as soon as the La Follette Committee got started and . . . Dies started up a committee. And he was such a dumbell, you know, he was a big lunkhead from Texas and I think old man Garner got him to start it up. And he . . . There was terrible fighting in the unions like the Ford fights. But Martin Dies was such a lunkhead, you know, he called Shirley Temple a Communist. And this idiot from Alabama, Joe somebody, he came from Gadsden, he was a congressman. He was on the Un-American Committee. WPA had a drama section where unemployed actors could put on free plays. And they were trying to get rid of her—I forget her name, Miss Hallie somebody, Hallie Farmer or

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but anyway she was a very sort of Bryn Mawr lady, you know, very cultured. And she told Joe—congressman from up here in Gadsden—she said they'd put on a play by Marlowe. Well Joe's first reply was, whas he a Communist? So you didn't take the Un-American Committee too seriously because the idea of it ever striking close to me was just absurd.
SUE THRASHER:
But it got even more ludicrous later and yet people took it seriously.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Sure, because more people, by that time things had changed. You see, Roosevelt gave people a tremendous sense of security, you know, in spite of him getting sick and all, he was always laughing and telling jokes. Everytime he'd come on the TV he'd have that cigarette perched in the corner of his mouth. And if you'd go to the White House to a reception, you know, he'd be standing up—I don't know how he was supported, but he was smiling and shaking hands. It was a great feeling of security. The Depression was over. We had a man in the White House who was doing something. And he got elected and reelected and reelected. The people were behind him, you know. And of course I was crazy about Mrs. Roosevelt. I just thought she was great—all of her high-pitched voice—you know she took voice lessons finally. Unions were being formed and coming South. It was a great period. That's what I'm so sorry for you young people to have missed because here it was all through the thirties and even through the war you see we were winning the war. Of course we had backsets. But up until . . . Roosevelt died in '45. '33 to '45 until the time that he died the country was in a feeling of hope if you know what I mean. We were going forward. These irritations, all this Communist business . . . Well, I hate to put on record how provincial I was, but coming from Alabama you see I'd gone to Wellesley and I'd gone to the National Cathedral School. But I mean I'd had so little education in the real world, if you know what I mean. So for a bunch of unions in New York to be fighting each other over socialism and Trotskyism and Lovestoneism and Communism. Well it meant just exactly as much to me as whether you got saved by total immersion or dipping. I thought it was just as silly.
And I'd lived all my life in that, you see. I'd been to baptisms by the score. I'd been people immersed and sprinkled and foot-washed; I'd

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heard them being sent to hell every Sunday. It seemed to me that this struggle was very much the same. But the main thing was I didn't take it very hard. But the thing that I did take very hard was that here we were just booming along on the poll tax, you know. They had Claude Pepper in the Senate and Vito Marcantonio in the House. And we'd gotten a whole lot of support by then from around the country. There were editorials being written. We were really coming to be kind of a main . . . There were editorials like, How can you worry about Eastern Europe when in Alabama they can't vote, or How can you worry about the democracies of Greece when Mississippi can't vote, comparing the South to the countries who didn't have any democratic privileges or rights. As I recall it was in the early fall of 1940 that we went over to see Mrs. Roosevelt. And she had us on the South Entrance for tea and went off to see Franklin and came back and said that from now on it was going to be Dr. Win-the-War and not—this was before we were in the war, you see. He said he just simply could not afford to throw the weight of the White House and his prestige behind our anti-poll tax bill because it made the southerners so mad and he needed them so badly for his war effort. You see the southerners were all with him on getting ready for the war. And people like Senator George, whom he had tried to beat, was one of his strongest supporters.
SUE THRASHER:
In the war effort.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. So that's when Mrs. Roosevelt and I cooked up the idea of trying to get the poll tax abolished for the soldiers, which we did you know. And that's a long story in itself. You see in the First World War people were excused from the poll tax if they had been in the First World War, so we got a law through—and we did get all the help of Tom Cochran and Ben Cohen and all the Howard University people, Dr. Nabrid and Bill Hasty and Ed Pritchard again, all the brain trust people, kind of. They drew up this law which prohibited the paying of the poll tax for a soldier fighting overseas. Either this was at the beginning of the war or just before the war. But that law got passed. And John Rankin said that was the nose of the camel under the tent. He fought it, filibustered it and did everything he could to beat it.
SUE THRASHER:
When Roosevelt became Dr. Win-the- War,

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you'd been in favor of intervention, were you pleased with that or how did you feel about that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I was absolutely, 100% for fighting Hitler from the very beginning. You see I didn't have any equivocations about it at all.
SUE THRASHER:
But you knew that it would put the poll tax on the back burner.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well sure, but at the same time, what good would it do to have the right to vote if you had Hitler over here? By the time you'd been reading about children being burned up in furnaces and the death of all these millions of people and the terrible Jewish persecution. I mean, this seemed to be the one monster in the world that had to be fought. But I never did finish about Litvinov. You see, I didn't blame the Russians for making the deal with Hitler at all. I thought that was a perfectly, very expedient thing to do, to give them a little time because they must have had sense enough to know the Germans were going to get on them eventually. So it gave them maybe six months or a year to get prepared. But I did think it was awfully silly for the Communists over here to say that was a phony war, and the Russians were making a deal with Hitler because Hitler wasn't . . . It was just one of those things that I still think was just crazy. And I'll argue with anybody today about that. I mean I thought for the Russians to do it was fine. They could buy time by making a phony pact—which everybody knew was phony—and buy six months or a year. It was great. But you see what it was was . . . I tell you the best books to read on all of this are the books by George Kennan and Charles Bohlen. You know who George Kennan is; he's at Princeton how I think. He's changed by the way! I saw him on the TV the other night. He's no longer such a cold warrior. And then the ambassador to Russia—Bohlen. You see these are all anti-Communist people who are very bitter against the Russians. But you get a lot of information out of them as to why things happened and why certain things were done.
And then by that time you see Decca was living with me and Esmond had gone off to the war, so I had a very direct interest in the war because Esmond was fighting with the British and then he was killed you see. So I had a very direct interest in the war itself. But all during the war my mother was with me and my father was with me a good part of the time. The four years of the war we kept up the poll tax office. The Southern Conference met once or twice but everything was subordinated to the war. I can remember we all had to go in carpools.

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We had only so much gas. You know Kenneth Galbraith, the famous economist. He was in our carpool. It was like I always had to sit on his knees which were extremely bony. We were packed in, you know. Every car that went from Seminary Hill to Washington was just packed with people, because we all had carpools. But the thing I remember is the difficulty you know with the rationing to get enough food. You see Decca was living with me then and Esmond had been killed and she had her baby. And then my mother, who was still in a state of melancholia, and my father was there most of the time and Cliff. And our boy had died by then, but Lula . . .
SUE THRASHER:
When was Lula born?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Lula was born after the war. Lula is 28 so she was born right after the war. But there was Lucy and Tilla and Ann. The house was just full of people. We had this Japanese couple you know that lived with us because Lowell Millett couldn't have them in his house because he was working in the White House. She worked for us; she took care of Decca's child, you know, Dinky Donk, the one that you know, Constantia. She was a wonderful, lovely, beautiful woman, just a wonderful character and half her family were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and she left us soon after that. She told me, she came and told me and she was weeping, and she said she thought we were very nice people and that she had been very happy there but she could not work for Americans for a while. She'd have to get back out. You know they just were obliterated. You just wonder why she didn't murder us in our bed.
SUE THRASHER:
How did they manage not to get put in a camp?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well she had been born in Hawaii, so she had American citizenship. And he had been Lowell Millett's butler, and Lowell was in the White House, so I suppose he protected him. But the FBI came and checked on them every month.
SUE THRASHER:
How did you feel about the detention camps?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well I thought the detention camps were terrible, but you know my brother-in-law Hugo Black voted for them.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you get into an argument with him about that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I never argued with Hugo about his cases. He never liked his work on the Court being discussed at home. He may have discussed it with Cliff but he never discussed it with me.
SUE THRASHER:
Was he later sorry that he had voted that way? Did he ever regret that decision?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Not that I ever heard. Hugo wasn't much . . . Hugo was a very public man, if

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you know what I mean. All of his life you see, he'd been a public man. From the time he was a boy he wanted to be an orator. And he was a great public man. He could divine the public interest. He did make mistakes, I'm sure, and I think the Japanese concentration camps was one of them. But he had a feeling for what the public wanted and needed. And that's why he was so passionate about the First Amendment, you see. He felt that when you got people shut up and they couldn't discuss things . . . I suppose that's one reason I always had this feeling around him of safety—because Cliff felt the same way—they thought you could talk to anybody, talk with anybody about anything. It was all of this underhanded stuff, you know, you would be accused by CT17; who was T17—you never would know. It was that kind of underhanded, secret stuff. That's why they had no great admiration for Russia. It's not that they didn't think Russia had fed the starving. They never went to Russia, I don't think. Oh, yes, Cliff went to Russia; he liked the Russians, the people very much. He said he never saw such—it was right after the war—he said he never saw such devastation in his life and such terrible misery. The people looked like they were so exhausted and there was so little food. He liked the Russians personally very much—the ones he came in contact with through this communications network that they were trying to reestablish. He liked very much.
[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]

[TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I'll try to divert a little about safety. When you grew up, didn't you feel safe? I mean, I was scared of snakes and runaway horses, you know. But there really was nothing to be scared of in those days that I can remember except hell. And I told you about how my mother dispelled hell for me—told me that it didn't exist and it was ridiculous to even pay any attention to it. I'm sure there

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was a great deal of fear in the world. In the circumstances that I lived in I certainly wasn't afraid of black people because they took care of me and nursed me and fed me and were my protectors. So I certainly had no fear of them at all. In fact, you know, they were the people that I depended on to look after me. So there was no fear of black people at all. And as far as the wars were concerned, I went through the First World War. I was only 14 or 15 and it was way off. No bombs fell on Alabama or New York. It was mostly just a lot of good-looking young men with bars on their shoulders, you know, and learning how to dance and knitting sweaters. That war didn't make any great impression on me at all. Maybe it was because of the TV; the horrors of the world came to you through the newspapers, you know, and maybe you wouldn't read the newspapers for a week—you wouldn't know there'd been an explosion somewhere and a million, a thousand people were killed on a volcano or whatever. The world was very much more restricted. You know the thing that has happened to us through the TV mostly is—you said last night, isn't there any good news?—you know you just look at the TV every evening and every morning and you see people being killed and slaughtered and burned up, whole cities being blown up. It makes the world a pretty terrifying place. I don't know what it's going to do to young people unless they take it casually. I think they don't know the difference between the ads and . . . What I think happens is they have gotten so they don't know the difference between the ads . . . I know on Sesame Street—my 2½ year old grandson likes Sesame Street—they have these funny old monsters on there looking peculiar and doing strange things with their hands and all, and he thinks they're cute as they can be. But if I turn on the news and he sees somebody on the news that looks peculiar, he says that's the monster cookie or the Cookie Monster. In other words, what he sees on the news he relates to Sesame Street. Now what this is going to do to people, I don't know. Art Buchwald had a marvelous editorial about it: how can you tell the difference between the ads and what's the news. Well, how can a little 2½ year old boy tell the difference between Sesame Street and the news? He just thinks it's all the same thing. The play monsters and the real monsters are the same. But when we grew

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up, in the first place there was not so much dangers from automobiles; you could play outside on the streets and skate on the streets and ride bicycles on the streets. And the streets were yours, if you know what I mean. The streets were the province of the children. Because there were some cars, but you know you're not terrified of your life every minute. And the trains were a delightful way to travel. And of course trains nowadays are just awful, but trains in those days were an absolutely delightful way to travel. You just loved to go on a train ride. And there weren't any airplanes. Maybe a few balloons. The world just seemed safer in those days. And I'm sure underneath all this . . . There was this terrible thing going on in Jefferson County—the convicts and the mines and the unions being broken up—but the kind of middle class world I lived in, you were protected, you felt safe. So when I went to Washington I always felt absolutely safe. I would walk through the streets at night and come home on the bus at ten o'clock and walk for the bus, which was half mile from our house. I wasn't scared. I think that has had a great deal to do with the fact that Cliff and I both grew up in an era when we were not frightened because there was nothing much to be frightened of. Did you grow up in that kind of era?
SUE THRASHER:
Well I did, but by the time I went to college it had all changed.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
And you see all our, both our familes on his side and on my side had come over here in the early 1700's you know and had fought in the Revolutuionary War. We had a sense—which I still have—that I owned the country; it's mine, you know. This is something that may be an arrogant way to feel. I own it; it's mine. There may be things that make me mad, and I want to change it, but it's my country. And this is my State. This is my county. As Cliff used to say, this is my side of the street. In other words you felt, you know, you had a solid base. You didn't have a feeling of floating in mid-air; you had a solid base of reality to sit on—which may or may not have been the real reality, but that was the base you stood on. So when I got to Washington and through the poll tax began to deal with all these various people who were at odds over various questions—Communism or Trotskyism or Lovestoneism or socialism of Fabianism—you know, it didn't affect me very much at all.
SUE THRASHER:
It just didn't mean anything?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very little. It made me mad if they interfered with what I was trying

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to do.
I used to enjoy Marcantonio because he had the same feeling, that they all were so funny and a bunch of—well I won't repeat all his words. But Marc used to think it was awful funny if somebody on the floor of the House of Congress would make a violent anti-Communist speech like Martin Dies or something of that kind, he would arrange to have Martin Dies called to a telephone, and some voice would say, this is [unknown], or this is [unknown], [unknown] or whatever, is Vito there. He would play jokes on him; he'd think this thing was so funny you know. You see, Marcantonio came from the upper East Side of New York and had lived on 116th Street all his life in an Italian community. But if he was ever scared of anything I never saw it. You know he felt perfectly safe too. Of course in the end the Catholic Church wouldn't bury him in consecrated ground, or at least they wouldn't give him the last rites, but I don't think that bothered him very much. He was one of the funniest people you've ever known in your life. He had a marvelous sense of humor. All of this to him was extremely funny.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember any more stories about him?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh heavens yes, I can remember thousands, but that would take a book in itself. You see I met him when he was first so rude to me and flew up and said, I was going to get that fancy-pants Baldwin or we were. And what the hell did he care about a little committee called the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, that it was going to be his bill and he was going to get it through and so on and so forth. And he did you see. He made everybody else withdraw, because you see he was elected on the Democratic, Republican, and American Labor Party ticket. He was elected on three tickets. So he got everybody else to withdraw. He was a super politician. The people in the House liked Marcantonio. They may have called him a red, you know, and a wop and all like that, but they liked him. He'd take us to lunch at the cafe—the poll tax girls you know, all these volunteers—and he'd introduce us to everybody and there would be a lot of joking. And you'd have him out to dinner. I remember I had spaghetti. I thought since I was having Vito Marcantonio and his wife, who was this tall New England girl, that I would have spaghetti, you know, like somebody having me and having fried chicken. Well, he was so funny because—I thought it was pretty good spaghetti—he ate it and he said, now Virginia, that

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was fairly good spaghetti—well I had a lot of other things too; it was a real good dinner on the whole—he said, but that spaghetti was not as good as it should be. He said now come out here and I will tell you how to cook spaghetti. And you know he took an hour to tell me how to cook spaghetti—you boil a huge pot of water, if would have to be like a washtub practically, and you don't put a whole lot of spaghetti in it because it can't stick; it has to be all separate, and then you dip it out and then you immediately put butter on it or something to keep it from sticking. And then the sauce, instead of being cooked as I had from four o'clock to six o'clock, has to be cooked two days to be real good Italian sauce. And he explained to me in detail you know exactly—putting the little bit of sugar with . . . But he was such a human man, you know, and he really wanted me to learn how to make spaghetti since I was going to have spaghetti and he thought it was so lousy. He was a very straight-laced person in many ways. If he ever caught anybody in a lie, that was the end of them. He had a very, very straight sense of honor. And everybody knew you could depend on Marc's word. He might yell at you and blow you up, but he had a very strict sense of honor. You knew you could depend on his word. His wife was a perfectly lovely woman. He had met her—you know she had worked in a settlement house up there in New York, and she had met him up there on the Upper East Side. And it was the strangest combination because here she was this tall, slender, very handsome New England aristocrat who came from one of the bluest blooded of the bluest blooded of the New England families, and here was this little short fiery Italian. They were aboslutely devoted to each other. And she and I got to be great friends and I used to stay with them up in New York. We'd have such a good time because I'd go up to beg money you know for the poll tax or something. We would go out for dinner and everybody knew Marc you know and would come up to him and we would eat in these little Italian restaurants where the clothes were hanging overhead you know—the laundry was out—marvelous food, really delicious Italian food. But everybody knew him and he was very popular and everybody would come and speak to him. And they liked her very much. And then they

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would have the most marvelous breakfasts in the mornings— of Italian sausage—and they were a very happy couple, you know, it was—they loved each other and seemed to have a great respect for each other. I became extremely fond of her. After he died, we had been back in Alabama then and I went up and went to see her. Oh and what a hell of a time did she have after he died because she couldn't get a job, you see, that was when McCarthyism was in full flight. She had to get a job in the Bellevue Hospital under another name, as I remember. By that time she was terribly thin. And she had his mother with her. You see he had a brother who was retarded or had some mental trouble, he was retarded. His mother had never let the brother go to an institution. But finally they had to put him in an institution after Marc died, you see, and the money was cut off, in a sense. But the Catholic Church hadn't buried him in consecrated ground, or something, or given him the last rites. But Miriam, you see, she had this old lady who was his mother, who never learned to speak English—just a few words. And Miriam kept her. Finally she had to send her to a Catholic home because she cried all the time, just wept, wept, wept, and wailed and when she wasn't crying she was praying—both for the son that had been sent to the retarded institution and the son that had died and not been buried in consecrated ground or hadn't been given the last rites. So she was either crying all the time or praying all the time. And poor Miriam was trying to make a living in Bellevue Hospital and keep them going, because Marc never had any money. Oh, no, he just gave it away. Well you see they didn't make but about $10,000. And he was very generous; he gave money away and helped people out. She took me out to the burial ground where he was buried. And he was buried near Fiorello LaGuardia, you see, he and LaGuardia had been great friends and they'd started out together in a way. And so he was buried near LaGuardia. Well, that was the most painful morning I ever spent, because his old mother went with us you see—the old mother was living with Miriam—and oh my Lord, she just went into hysterics and tore her hair and screamed and cried and threw herself on the grave. It was awful. It was one of the most painful mornings I have ever spent in my life. And it was right shortly thereafter that

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Miriam had her put in a Catholic home where they spoke Italian because it was terribly difficult to keep her.
SUE THRASHER:
Is she still alive?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, no, Miriam didn't live very long after that. She had an awful rough time. She worked in the Bellevue Hospital, some job under a false name.
SUE THRASHER:
They didn't have any children?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, they never had any children. But she was 100% loyal to Marcantonio. It was such a curious marriage, you know, but it was one that seemed to work very well.
And then his secretary was such a delightful person. Marc always had, he surrounded himself—this was an old maid school teacher from New England; she was named Miss Johnson. I forget her first name, but she was his secretary. She was a friend of Miriam's I think; they'd been to school together or something. Anyway, she was about the properest and primmest New England old maid you ever saw. So people would come in there, you know, to fuss at Marc or to have a row with him or something and be met by this icy New England prim old maid. Miss Johnson was absolutely loyal to him you know, 100%, too. So he surrounded himself with—both his wife and his secretary were just the most proper New England ladies you can possibly imagine. And then there was another girl who worked in his New York office. I can't remember her name. She died of cancer. She ran his office. You see he had a New York office where all the people came with their problems. And she was a very attractive girl. She died of cancer. You know I must be getting old; but you know I have known a whole lot of people. I knew her so well and admired her so much. I tell you who we can find out all about her from is Luke and Ruth Wilson. They were great friends of Marcantonio's, too. They were great friends of this girl who ran his New York office. Marcantonio was a complete politician, but he believed that a politician was based on honor. Now this is the highest form, to me, of politics. He believed that in politics a man's word had to be his bond and that when politics got to the stage where people lied to each other and you couldn't trust a man's word anymore, that it was just chaos. He and Cliff got along extremely well because they both had the same idea of truth and honor and democratic government being based on truth and honor.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have anything to do with the southern

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conservative congressmen at this time?
Did you ever have to deal with Dies or with Rankin or with any of the people that were opposed you so politically?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I had to deal with that Jim Eastland. I told you about taking the sweet southern ladies in to see him. Well, I had to deal with him. You see these women, the Women's Society of Christian Service of the Methodist Church was one of our greatest supporters. Anyway, they are very great church women. And there was a Mrs. Arrington in Mississippi who was the head I believe of the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Methodist Church. So she came to Washington and came by the poll tax office, anti-poll tax office, and we'd had some correspondence with them and they'd gotten some of our literature. And she had about 10, 8 or 9 women with her. And it was hot summer. And they were all dressed like the ladies in Mississippi and Alabama dress, which I think is very pretty, you know voile, light voile dresses, white shoes, white gloves, white beads, white hat, and flowers on their hat. And all I thought looked very lovely, all looking very Women's Society. So we told them who to go to see. They wanted to go to the Methodist Building for lunch, and we all arranged to go there for lunch. See the Methodist Building was close by. And you know it was segregated for ages. They wanted to integrate that. I think we tried to find some Negro girl, woman or girl to take with us because the ladies from Mississippi wanted to integrate the Methodist Building. They thought it was terrible the Methodist Building wasn't integrated, and it wasn't for years and years. They were really remarkable—I can't remember any of them's names except Mrs. Arrington. But she was a very ladylike person. But they wanted to go to see Jim Eastland. Now this is an absolutely true story, which is a nasty story, but its a true story. So we went to his office and of course . . . I didn't want to go with them. I knew what a cotton-mouth moccasion he was, you know. And by that time I had come to absolutely hate his guts. So I didn't want to go with them, but they insisted that I go because for one thing they didn't know how to get around. So we walked in Jim Eastland's office and his secretary, whoever he was, saw these nice ladies from Mississippi all dressed up you know, and he ushered them right in to Jim Eastland. There

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he was sitting at his desk, and he did rise when they came in and shook their hands. See his sister-in-law, Mrs. Eastland's sister-in-law was a great worker in the Women's Society for Christian Service, in fact I think she was the secretary. Mrs. Eastland's sister was a great worker in the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Mississippi Church. They all knew her. I think she was the secretary of the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Methodist Church. Anyway she was very active in it, and they all knew her, and so there was something said about your sister-in-law, great friend, and so forth. And everything started off very pleasantly until they came to the poll tax. And then do you know what he did? Here were these southern ladies mind you, dressed up with white, you know, the epitome of the southern . . . He jumped up, his face turned red, you know, he's got those heavy jowls like a turkey, and they began to turn purple, and he screamed out, I know what you women want, black men laying on you! I'm telling you that's exactly what he said. That is the identical words he said. The thing that was . . . the reaction was so funny. Well, we left very promptly I can assure you and went to the Methodist Building for lunch, and I don't think the black lady went with us, whoever she was. But the thing that was so embarrassing to these women was that their senator had said such a thing, you know, they were trying to apologize to me. You know, they would say, well now Mrs. Durr you know the Eastlands, I don't know whether you know it but they don't come from South Mississippi. They come from North Mississippi. Well, that didn't mean anything to me. I said, what do you mean. They said, they come from the hill country, didn't come from the delta, you see. And they are not really, well, ah, they have made their money quite recently. In fact, what they were saying was, they were poor white trash that just made money, that Jim Eastland was common as pig tracks, and this is just the kind of remark he would make. But they were so embarrassed for him, if you know what I mean. They kept apologizing to me, you know. They couldn't imagine that a Mississippi senator would say . . . he got up and turned just as red as, "I know what you women want, black men laying on you." And can

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you imagine? Well that's the way it used to go. That was the whole burden of John Rankin's speeches, you know.
And Bilbo, oh my God. It was just like a cesspool. It was just awful. All the idea that you give the blacks any rights at all and immediately one step from the school room to the bedroom, or one step from the polling booth. And of course the Mississipi ladies all explained it in terms that the white man had had relationships with the black women for so many years and that they naturally assumed that . . . However, you can read Faulkner and get the whole picture, but the point is, that's what he said, and I was there to witness it.
SUE THRASHER:
Did he know who you were when you came in with them?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I don't think he knew who I was. The only one who ever knew who I was was old McKellar of Memphis, and he knew who I was because you see—he chased everybody around the desk; that was no special honor—but you see he had been a friend of my uncle, who was a governor of Tennessee at one time, Malcolm Patterson. And then they split. Oh, he had a big diatribe against me in the Congressional Record. Maybe I can find it somewhere. But old McKellar you see . . . You know, as I said, these things didn't bother me. The idea of old McKellar calling me a tool of the Communist conspiracy didn't bother me in the least. I just thought he was an old fool you know and he was doing it because he'd gotten mad at Uncle Malcolm. You see I've always had a great way, as you know, which irritates people out of their minds, particularly people who . . . is reducing things to the personal. It used to irritate Cliff considerably at times. And it used to irritate Hugo a lot. For instance when I voted for Henry Wallace. I voted for Henry Wallace because I was crazy about Henry Wallace, but Cliff and Hugo voted for the Democratic Party and for Truman because they thought he could win and also they thought the other guy who was running against him, Dewey, well they thought he was no good at all. But you see they got furious at me for voting for Henry Wallace because I liked him so much.
SUE THRASHER:
That wasn't a good enough reason.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Why the Democratic Party, you've got to stick by the Democratic Party. Oh, no, they never, Hugo never did forgive me for voting for

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Henry Wallace, although he was a great friend of his. They used to have dinner together. Henry Wallace was absolutely crazy about my sister. He and sister had some sort of a mystical relationship, you know, they both believed in extrasensory perception and things like that, which you know I'm not up on. So Henry Wallace was much fonder of my sister than he was of me. But he liked me, too, and we were friendly. But I was crazy about him. I thought Henry was just red, white, and blue, you know. Every time I ever saw Henry I always thought of golden waves of grain, you know, from sea to shining sea. But Henry looked so American with that lock of hair and coming from Iowa and all. I'm sorry to get off on Henry. I fell out with Henry later.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you ever have a personal encounter with Dies during that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh no.
SUE THRASHER:
Rankin?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh heavens no. I wouldnt have gone, touched them with a ten-foot pole. They were in there spewing forth nasty—like Bilbo. They were just so vile and vicious and common.
SUE THRASHER:
How did people like Sparkman and Lister Hill . . . ?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I got along with them all right.
SUE THRASHER:
No, but how did they get along with the others?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, honey, they would say. Lister said to me, Honey, when you get the votes, I'll be for you. And like Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon would put his arm around you. You know Lyndon put his arm around all the girls anyway. But Lyndon would say, Honey, I know you're right; I'm for you. I know that the poll tax ought to be abolished, but we haven't got the votes. And as soon as we get the votes, I'll see that we do it. And he did you know. That was the surprising thing about Lyndon, when we got the votes, he did abolish the poll tax. You see Lyndon always thought in terms of you didn't have the votes. And Lister would say perfectly honestly, Virginia, I'd be for you if it wouldn't ruin me in Alabama.
SUE THRASHER:
But Lister Hill and Sparkman were New Dealers.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh sure.
SUE THRASHER:
But they weren't as vicious as later?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh they never were really vicious. They filibustered. They didn't go into the nigger business of white women and the awful kind of cesspool stuff that Rankin and Bilbo and Dies dragged out. And then I don't remember Lyndon or Hill or Sparkman going into the thing about treason and Communism and all that either. They would have filibustered, because that's what they thought they had to do

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to stay elected. I stayed on very good terms with Lister and John and certainly was devoted to Lyndon. I was just crazy about Lyndon and Lady Bird. But that old Cotton Ed Smith, you know, he was a nasty old character. I never went near him. You couldn't spend your time . . . he would just insult you. The only time I went to see Eastland you see what kind of reception we got. And it was not only me; it was these ladies from the Women's Society for Christian Service. The other great friend we had was Kefauver from Tennessee. Estes Kefauver you see was with us. I don't know whether Tennessee had abolished the poll tax by then or not.
SUE THRASHER:
Was he an early supporter of the poll tax?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, he was great. You see Claude Pepper could support us because they'd abolished the poll tax in Florida. And Estes supported us, and it was during that period they abolished it by state action, you see. And Estes was a great supporter of ours. He was an awfully nice guy. He had a real pretty wife, red hair, she was Scotch, lot of children. Estes drank too much though. Died early I think on account of that. He was a very nice-looking fellow, very nice fellow, just lovely, brave guy, good guy, and he supported us. We didn't ever expect to get any southern support. When we got Claude Pepper and Estes Kefauver we thought we were just terribly lucky. I can't think of any southern senators or southern congressmen that supported us during that period. When Jim Folsom got elected governor of Alabama, he supported us, but he couldn't . . . He was trying to do it through the state. But he was against the poll tax.
SUE THRASHER:
Arnold Ellis came later?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He came later. He was for it I believe, but I never knew him. You see we were trying to . . . Of course the Byrds there in Virginia. Senator Byrd was 1000% against us. Carter Glass, oh and Howard Worth Smith—you know I lived in his district. He was like an old buzzard picking over a carrion. He was a horrible old man, I thought. He was always doing something; he was even against the whole New Deal. He was against everything.
SUE THRASHER:
You felt that you were in a position of power with the New Deal behind you. Did the southern congressmen feel that they were in a weak position? Were they fighting back or something?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well they

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were just terrified of the race issue. You see they translated immediately the fight to against the poll tax into the race issue. And they were terrified politically of the race issue still, you see. The Negro had no right, couldn't vote, had not power whatever. And the unions were coming South and they were having these integrated unions, you see. The CIO integrated the unions, you see. They used to have segregated unions. They thought the poll tax would give all these people the right to vote—the unions and the Negroes and all these new labor people. The world would turn over.
They were trying to get industry all the time on account of cheap labor. Cheap labor was the great selling point of the South. Every southern state, every Chamber of Commerce, every corporation to get the South prosperous was cheap labor. They also were willing to take anything the United States government gave them.
You see this is what makes the South, as I have said, so schizophrenic and so crazy. And this is why I think people go crazy. Here we have just here in Alabama today, George Wallace, who takes every dime that he can get out of the federal government and the people who follow him take every dime they can get out of the federal government. Because you see we get into Alabama at least twice as much money as we send out to the federal government. In other words, the federal taxes that we pay in Alabama are far less than the federal money that we get in. And of course New York and Chicago or those places complain bitterly. The tax money you see comes South. But the point is that . . . So everybody that can get a federal grant in the South gets one, whether its Medicaid or Medicare or unemployment or commodities. And of course all these highways you see, they're built 10% with the state money and 90% with federal money. All these great interstate highways and all the highways you see are built with federal money. They fought bled and died for all the federal military installations they could get. Right here in Montgomery you know we've got two or three. Now this is the thing that makes the South so schizophrenic is that they fight for federal benefits all the time, and everybody that's elected they're going to get them something, new school or something for them; at the same time the States are wooing the big corporations to come down

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and get cheap, contented labor, you know. And then they run—now this is the thing: George Wallace runs on the basis of the interference of the federal government. And the federal government's becoming your master. And the federal government is your enemy. And the federal government has made you bus and do all this. And this is why I say the southern people keep cutting their throats, you know, generation after generation because they seem to think in terms that make no sense at all. And this is what I have never been able to understand. So when I get up and run for office—which I have done twice now for these little minor—and try to tell them that if you follow George Wallace you want commodities cut off, you want food stamps cut off, you want federal aid cut off, you want Medicare cut off, Medicaid, all these benefits but off, Social Security, veterans' benefits, that's your privilege, if that's what you want. But you can't have it both ways. But they do want it both ways and they won't listen to you. So they'll go ahead and vote for George Wallace and for Ford and for Nixon, who are claiming that the federal government is just . . . Now is you can explain that to me. I was trying to tell those boys from Harvard the other night that if they can explain this that then they'll get at what is wrong with southern politics.
Well, going back to the poll tax, during the war there was . . . we got rid of it for the soldiers, but hardly any of them ever voted. But then when they got back home, you see, they didn't have to pay a poll tax.
SUE THRASHER:
Do you remember the specifics of you and Eleanor Roosevelt planning that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Uh, huh, I had some letters from her about it. But this was just this afternoon just talking on the South portico after he said we had to have win-the-war, we decided we'd get rid of the poll tax for the soldiers. You see if I'd had any idea that I was doing anything historical, I'd have kept a lot more than I have, but I've kept a lot of stuff. So when the war was over. Roosevelt died, you see, and Truman came in. The poll tax had barely limped along on a very limited basis, but we decided we were going all once again to . . . We decided we'd revive it. So we had a meeting. We got all the people together from the board. And by that time Lewis and Philip

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Murray had split up and Lewis had gone back to the Mine Workers and Murray was head of the CIO, you know Phillip Murray. So he sent as his representative a fellow named Hoyt Haddock, whom we had known for years. He'd been with the Joe Curren's union. He'd been Curren's representative for years on the anti-poll tax, and he came from Texas, and he was a big old fellow. We used to help write his testimonies and speeches. And you know he'd drop in, and he couldn't write very well, very poorly educated fellow. He was a good old boy, you know, good old Texas boy. We'd write his speeches for him, the testimony he'd have to give. So Hoyt Haddock came that afternoon we were reviving the anti-poll tax committee and trying to get everybody back together again, to see if we could get it through. Well, he announced at the first meeting that Mr. Murray had told him to say that while Mr. Murray would be delighted to support the anti-poll tax bill and would be delighted to give money to it, it would only be on condition that we get rid of all the left-wing unions in the CIO. You see they were having a big split then in the CIO. By that time the CIO and the AF of L had split. See this was the disintegration of the whole Roosevelt coalition. The AF of L had split from the CIO. Then the CIO split and Murray split with Lewis and Lewis went back to the United Mine Workers and started something called District 50, which . . . Then the unions had begun to split. There was the right wing of the unions and the left wing of the unions. This was the beginning of the Cold War, you see. Roosevelt had died and Truman had come in. And Arthur Goldberg was the counsel for the, Phillip Murray's CIO then. You see Lee Pressman had been fired because he was too red. And although he later became an informer and told all who his Communist friends were when he was in high school and all, he never did get hired back. You know, Lee Pressman was considered to be the great red. But he was a very brilliant lawyer and he did a lot of good. You know he was the one that helped get the whole CIO started. But then you know he became a . . .

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[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[TAPE 5, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 5, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Lee Pressman had been the general counsel for the CIO and he was a very tall, good-looking fellow from New York and had a very beautiful wife named Sunny and two very beautiful daughters. And he had helped us a great deal in the anti-poll tax committee by getting money from the unions and by getting money from the CIO and he was very close to Lewis and to Murray too. And I remember during the height of Lee's fame, when he was a big shot, I was up in New England—Sarah and I had taken a trip up to see various people, one of whom was Bob Lamb, who represented the Steel Workers. He'd been a Harvard graduate and he married; you know his wife, when he died, married Corliss Lamont, and she just died last week. Well, Bob Lamb's widow married Corliss Lamont after Bob Lamb died, several years after he died. We were visiting the Lambs; we'd gone by to see Bob and Helen Lamb up in New England. Sarah D'Avila, who was secretary of the anti-poll tax committee. Frances Wheeler in the meantime had gotten married and had gone off and Sarah had become the secretary of the anti-poll tax committee. We just took a little trip and went to several people we knew. It was hot and in the summer. The children were down in Alabama or something. I don't know; we just took a little trip, for about a week. So the Lambs told us, or we knew, . . . You see Bob Lamb represented the Steel Workers. This was before the war. Anyway, he said that Lee Pressman had a house in the vicinity. So we called him up and told him we were going to come by and see him and Sunny, you see we knew his wife too quite well. You see the New Deal in those days was very much smaller than the great octopus they've got now. And certainly everybody in the labor movement . . . Now Cliff never did like Lee Pressman. He had had some experiences with him that made him dislike him. He thought he was arrogant and went to Harvard and he was always trying to lay down the law. He was on some commissions with him. But I thought Lee was very nice because he helped us so much and got us

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money you know. And then he was a good-looking fellow and attractive too. And we used to have dinner with them occasionally. And they'd come over to our house, but Cliff never did like Lee. Cliff had a kind of a second sight about people. It's the strangest thing how you know that he would be able when people that everybody else thought were the greatest heroes in the world and were marvelous people and just wonderful, he would be able to detect that they weren't so great after all. The only thing about this story, the interesting thing is, Lee Pressman was one of the great heroes of the labor movement, and he was a brilliant lawyer and he'd won all the big cases you know before the Supreme Court on Harry Bridges and on all kind of labor problems. He was a big shot in Washington, you know. And he was a great hero in the labor movement. Anyway, we went over to Lee Pressman's—he met us at this Lamont Village in New Hampshire, wherever we were, and took us over to his house for lunch. Well it was just a simple country house you know up in the hills of Vermont. But there was Lee, tall and tan and white shirt and white shorts and tennis shoes, and there was Sunny, tall and beautiful and tan and white shorts and there the two children were, tall and tan, on horses. So we were going to have lunch on the porch. Lee said to me, you know we have some visitors, my mother and father are visiting us, and my aunt and uncle. And I said, well, I'm so delighted to meet them. Well, at that point out come these little gnomes. They couldn't have been more than four feet tall, and they were all bent over like that. And they were people I would say in their late 60's or 70's—they were old people. But they were all just absolutely bent double. I couldn't believe it at first. So he sat his mother by me at the lunch table. And I said I know you're proud of your son. And then she told me this long story about how she and her husband and the uncle and aunt had come from Latvia or Lithuania and they'd come over here and gone to work in the lofts of the East Side. You see they'd been bent over the sewing machine all their lives. And that's why they were so bent over, you see. All their lives they had been bent over the sewing machine. But then she said, my boy went to Harvard. And I said I know you are proud of him.

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And she went on about, my boy, how brilliant he was and he had such a big job now and how good he was to her. She was just like any mother bragging about her son. But the thing that she said that I remember: and she says, you know we were able to send my boy to Harvard and we did, he had everything everybody else did and do you know, when my boy went to Harvard, he had a coonskin coat. The thing was that here was this poor old lady, you know, bent over a sewing machine all of her life who had sent her son to Harvard and gotten him a coonskin coat. Well, you see I had this feeling of such admiration for Lee Pressman. I mean the fact that he had come out of a family that had come from Lithuania and Latvia and that he was standing up for the labor people and that he was trying to help the people like his mother and father and aunt and uncle who'd spent their lives over a loft in the East Side. You know I thought that Lee was just great stuff. And I used to argue about him with Cliff, because Cliff thought he was just arrogant and he never did like him. And you know Lee turned to be an informer.
SUE THRASHER:
Now let's go back to this meeting where Hoyt Haddock came.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
The Cold War had started by then and all the schisms had started. It drove you absolutely out of your mind. At that point it had come home to me. You see when the war was over we felt like we were on top of the world. Here we were, we'd defeated Hitler. We had defeated this great horrible monster. And Henry Wallace was talking about the brave new world, you know, and milk for the starving. And Wendell Wilkie was going around the world making speeches we were all in one world. There was a period there of euphoria, you know, when the Russians and Americans met on the Elbe and shook hands. The idea was that Russia would become more democratic and we would become more socialistic. And the two countries would be great friends and keep the peace in the world. There was a period of euphoria. But then you see the Cold War started almost immediately, and they cut off Lend-Lease you see, that was the first thing they did. All these devastated countries of Europe and Russia and England too, all of them who had depended on us to rehabilitate them—you see we cut off Lend-Lease, you know, and they had to pay for what they got or then under the Marshall Plan they had to . . .

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SUE THRASHER:
Let's stay on this meeting.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
The point was all this terrific fighting and infighting and Cold War and Communism and anti-Communism and traitors—it all started. And Cliff was dealing with it at the FCC. This must have been about '46, you see. It was right after the war, and Truman had come in. And we were trying to revive the poll tax committee. While the Cold War had started, it hadn't gotten to be so terribly vicious, but Hoyt Haddock came over with the message from Phil Murray that we had to get rid of all the left-wing unions, which were Harry Bridges' union, you know the Longshoremen, and the Electrical Workers' Union, and the Furriers, of course, because they were out-and-out Communists, and the Marine Cooks and Stewards. I can't remember the list, all the details of it, except we refused to it, at least we took a vote. And we said we were going to stick by the principles we always stuck by, which was that anybody that supported the anti-poll tax bill could come and be on the board and take part in things. Well, Hoyt Haddock said that no more money then from the CIO.
SUE THRASHER:
Was that an overwhelming vote?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I don't remember the vote, but I remember the Negroes, the blacks all voted with us, and the church organizations and the civil liberties—they all voted with us. I still had a lot of support.
SUE THRASHER:
That was still considered sort of an inter-union battle then?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Exactly. So we refused to not allow these unions to come. In the meantime though you see, John L. Lewis had withdrawn his representative on account of Phillip Murray being in there. You see, he knew Phillip Murray wasn't any Communist, but he was so mad at Murray you see that he withdrew his representative. And then the AF of L withdrew their representative because they said Murray and the whole CIO was a bunch of Communists. It got pretty confusing there for awhile. But we mostly say it as a interunion fight, all of them seeking support.
So then we were desperate for money. We had no money, and the CIO had said they weren't going to give us any more money. And the left-wing unions had never given us very much and didn't have much. And they were fighting for their lives at that point, you know. Anyway, we struggled along for a few months there you know with just the support—oh, the Negro Elks helped us out at that point; I remember that. They gave us some money. But then I got a call from a Jewish fellow whose name I can't remember, who

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represented some Jewish committee. I don't know what it was. Anyway, it was some Jewish fellow who had a liberal reputation. I remember he asked us to have a meeting in his office. And you see by that time the Cold War was heating up and the lines were being drawn. So we went to this fellow's office, and the board met, what was left of it. Most of it now was just church ladies, and the Negro groups—you know the unions had gotten out, and the ACLU was still there, I believe. But we'd gotten, you know—the whole big Roosevelt coalition you see had been broken up with all this infighting and stuff. So this young Jewish fellow whose name I can't remember, Herman somebody. He said, Mrs. Durr—he said that they were prepared to give us money and set us up in an office and they thought the anti-poll tax bill was a good thing. There was just one thing: he had the Attorney General's list—you see by that time the Attorney General of the United States had put out a list of subversive organizations, and he had the list with him. And he said is there anybody on this board who is one the Attorney General's list. Well there was somebody from the Lawyer's Guild, and they were on the Attorney General's list, so they'd have to be put off. And there was somebody from the—there were two electrical unions then I believe; the left-wing electrical union guy was there and he had to be put off. Anyway, he checked down the list and everybody who was on the board who was on the Attorney General's list of their organization was had to get off the board, or we wouldn't get any support. You see we'd gotten this from Murray through Hoyt Haddock already. And by the way Hoyt turned out had been working for the owners all the time—he'd been paid from the union and the ship owners. He'd been a double agent, so we heard later. I don't know whether you can use this or not, because I don't have the proof of it; we can add that later. Anyway, at that point the whole thing to me just seemed so absurd. We'd just gone through a war, you know, against Hitler, and here was this young Jew telling me we had to . . . And all of a sudden I said something I . . . I lost my temper. I got up and I said, look, I said, you're the kind of Jew that brought on Hitler. I said, this is exactly the kind of thing that brought on Hitler.

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And for you, a Jew . . . And as far as I'm concerned let's just say it's the end of the committee, because we're not going to . . . I was uglier than that; I was pretty mad, and I said some real ugly things, which I regret. Well, I don't regret them; at the time I thought you know to tell a Jew that you're the kind of Jew that's responsible for Hitler. I thought that was pretty bad. When I got home and told Cliff I'd said it, he thought it was pretty bad, too. I just should have said, you're a kind of man that's responsible for Hitler, maybe. Because of course the Jews didn't bring on Hitler. So he thought I'd made a very bad remark. I shouldn't have said . . . It sounded like I was blaming the Jews for bringing on Hitler, if you know what I mean. And I do regret it because . . . But I was mad, and I lost my temper, and I was out of control. And I had already gone through this thing with Hoyt Haddock. And so that was the end of the anti-poll tax committee. It never did meet after that. That was the end of it. Never got together. You see, we'd been red-baited to death. I mean all these divisions . . . You see, that was also the end of the Roosevelt coalition. Here was also the beginning of the Cold War.
Then you see after that we all . . . The Southern Conference was still in existence then. And we all joined in with Henry, you know, with Wallace and got into the Progressive Party and followed Henry. And of course that split things still farther. We didn't win. That was the end of the poll tax committee. That was the last meeting.
SUE THRASHER:
What year was this?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That must have been about '47. It was before Henry ran; Henry ran in '48. And I remember I began to throw all my enthusiasm . . . I think I was pregnant with Lula then. I'd just had a . . . Well, that ended the committee. And all the material and the letters, everything was . . . A fellow named Coleman Rosenberger, who had worked with us—he was one of the Tolan Committee boys. He went to work for George Bender, who had been congressman, he was a Republican. And he helped us a great deal. George Bender, he was a real nice guy. He was a great Taft follower. He was a congressman from Ohio. So for a while Coleman Rosenberger stored all this stuff in his basement and

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then . . . Coleman got quite conservative as time went on and I never did know what happend to it. We moved away in '49 I reckon. All the stuff was there, all those letters and the stuff and everything, just gone. I never have known what happened to it. I went back I remember when Lula got, Ann got married and Sarah was still alive and I asked Sarah if she knew what had happened to it. She said she'd asked Coleman, and Coleman said he thought they'd cleaned it out and thrown it out in the trash. Well, it's a sad tale, but the poll tax finally did get abolished. You see, the idea had taken on; you shouldn't have to pay to vote. So we did feel like we did . . .
And you know years later, it did take a long time, but it did finally get abolished. You know it got abolished by a constitutional amendment. It got abolished by constitutional amendment for federal elections only. And then Lyndon Johnson abolished it in the voting rights act. So Lyndon did do what he said he was going to do. You see Lyndon Johnson's voting rights act got rid of all the impediments on the vote, if you remember. You see it had been abolished in federal elections, and a lot of the states then had begun to abolish it because it was very hard to hold a federal election where you didn't have to pay a poll tax and a state election where you did. And so a lot of the states had gotten rid of it. But the heroes of that whole struggle . . . You see the Supreme Court had turned us down two or three times and said it was a state issue. You know you look back on that period and there were so many people that it's just hard to, you know, I'd have to give you a long list. In the Congress itself there was George Norris and Claude Pepper, they were our main supporters in the . . . And in the House it was Marcantonio, Vito Marcantonio, and it was Maury Maverick, and this Lee Geyer, who fought to the very end with the cancer of the throat—he still made speeches trying to get rid of the poll tax. So I would say they were the heroes of the struggle in the Congress. And the main support we got was from the unions, and that was mainly through Mr. Lewis and from Lee Pressman and from Jean Cotton and the lobbyists for the various unions, [unclear] and Bob Lamb, all those boys who were working for the unions. They were a fine group of people. And in the Southern Conference the people that

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worked hardest on it were Clark Foreman, whose name I have mentioned—see all through these years Clark just devoted hours and hours and made speeches, you know—and Palmer Webber—you say he's a cynic now, but he wasn't a cynic then and he certainly did work hard and he certainly did a great job—and David Carliner. Now among the women, there was Frances Wheeler who was marvelous, and Sarah D'Avila who was marvelous, and two or three more whose names . . .
One of the main workers we had—this is such a funny tale, I can't help but tell this, because it's so amusing. There was a little old lady appeared, she was old, really old. She was you know elderly, 60's, 70's, but had white hair. Her name was Sarah Rosenbaum. So she came in one day and was a, to be a volunteer. We had lots of volunteers. I can't remember all their names. So Sarah came in and she was just as cute as she could be. And she would make us cocoa in the mornings on the radiator. She was just as cute as she could be. She was Sarah Rosenbaum. And the thing that was so funny, though, about her was that she had been a Rostow. I'm trying to make it brief, but this is such a fascinating story in view of the later events. So Sarah's family had come from Lithuania or Latvia. There was a Jewish group that brought Jews over here. They were having the horrible pogroms or something. So this Jewish group settled this Rostow family near New Haven on a little farm. Well, the old gentleman—these are stories I got from Sarah—her father, did nothing but study the Talmud. He was a holy man, so he sat with his yarmulke on and studied the Talmud. And he wasn't supposed to do anything but that, what he'd been bred to do, he was a holy man. I don't know whether he was a rabbi. The mother, she said, was a little bitty woman, who was Polish, I believe. And she thought they would all starve to death on this rocky farm unless something was done. So she got some cows. And the children would have to get up at four o'clock in the morning and milk the cows. Then they would take the milk, you know, and come home in the afternoon and milk the cows and take the milk to the neighbors. So she kept that whole family going on these few cows she bought and on this little bit of a dairy. Sarah told about it with greatest possible pride. What a marvelous person her mother was. It turns out she was Gene and Walt Rostow's aunt, Sarah was. So Sarah was an out-and-out

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Communist. When I say she was an out-and-out Communist I mean I suppose she was a member of the Party, but she was always preaching Communism and bringing pamphlets to the poll tax committee. She had some sort of a second sense. We used to have a lot of young volunteers, young white men would come in, they were volunteers. And they would say they had just a few weeks off, and she'd put them to cranking the mimeograph machine. She knew they were from the FBI; she just had a second sense. And they always were, because they'd tell us these lies about how they worked for the Post Office and they never did. But the first thing they would always ask for was the list, our mailing list and our contributors' list, to see how much gold we were getting from Moscow, I suppose. Of course nobody ever gave us a dime, I mean, except the unions. That was the biggest contributor. Sarah was perfectly delightful. Anyway she opened a book shop in Washington finally, a Marxist book shop. And more people were sent to jail and lost their jobs because they had belonged to this Marxist book shop Sarah had. Well, she finally went to California to live with her daughter, who lives out there now. I got a card from her after Cliff died. She would send me copies of letters she wrote Gene and Walt Rostow, her nephews, they were supporting the Vietnamese War. I hope I've kept them because she would really just tear the skin off of them you know. You never read such letters in your life, how they were betraying the family and disgracing the Jews. Oh, she was just fierce with them. Sarah was just as cute as she could be. We had a lot of volunteers. But you know it's so long ago.
One girl who acted a secretary for a while was named Kit somebody, perfectly beautiful girl and I can't remember her name now.
[END OF TAPE 5, SIDE A]

[TAPE 5, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 5, SIDE B]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, you asked me what the feeling in Washington was at the end of the war. Of course the great emotional outburst came at the death of Roosevelt. In spite of the people on the inside of the White House knowing that he'd had a stroke and was ill, the

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public at large, of which I was one, thought he was just as happy and healthy and cheerful as always. And you see they cancelled all the public social events at the White House during the war, so you didn't go to the big receptions and shake his hand face to face. And that was all cancelled due to the war. They thought that was too extravagant, which of course it was. But up until that time you know, you would go at least once a year to the White House and you'd see the President face to face, shake his hands, and he always looked just the picture of health. How he stood up those long hours, I'll never know, whether he was resting against a frame. And Mrs. Roosevelt always looked like the picture of health, you know, she was very tall and angular, but she had this beautiful complexion and lovely eyes. I've told you this before. Because I was so fond of her, she was pretty to me, just because I liked her so much. And she used to wear, I thought, terrible clothes. Poor thing, she just dressed very badly. She didn't pay much attention to her clothes, I don't think. I think she just wore what decently covered her. But then she would add such odd ornaments. I remember one night at the White House she had a thing of tigers' teeth around her neck. You know the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, had shot a tiger and he had made a necklace of tiger's teeth. Well, Mrs. Roosevelt was wearing the tiger's teeth as a great evening ornament. It was the most awful looking thing you've ever seen in your life. If you can imagine what tiger's teeth look like. And she had an air of having forgotten herself in a way, if you know what I mean. I never felt that I had got intimate with Mrs. Roosevelt in the sense of Eleanor and Virginia, really warm friendship. But I've got some of her letters scattered around, if we could ever find them. I think they're here, there, and yonder, where she writes me, you know, as Dear Virginia, and they're very warm letters, I mean friendly warm letters. Of course I always called her Mrs. Roosevelt, and so there was never really intimate, warm relationship of friendship. I just liked her so much because she had such a charming manner, and I thought she was pretty, nice looking, you know. Then she would laugh. She had a very cute sort of funny, high-pitched laugh. Of course you know

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she was crazy about Aubrey Williams because they worked together in the NYA. And she was always calling Aubrey in and Mrs. Bethune. They were two of her strong supporters—to rescue somebody or do something somewhere. And Aubrey was just crazy about her. I don't think she was non-sexual in that she was a hermaphrodite or a neuter, but you felt that she had literally forgotten herself. It's a curious transference. Whatever she was interested in, whatever she was talking to you about was the most important thing in the world. And she made you feel that her whole being was concentrated on getting rid of the poll tax or helping the sharecroppers or coming South and doing what she could. She would often be repetitive and tell the same little tale over with the same little laugh. I remember she told us all a million times, all the southerners, that she was, her grandmother came from Georgia and was a Bullock. Well, that's from Bullock County where my family came from you know, down here below Tuskegee, so I knew all about the Bullocks and Bullock County, and General Bullock. But I bet she told that tale fifty times. You know she was trying to identify with the southerners. And the ones that she was the warmest to, the young southerners, were the young people who were in the Southern Conference Youth Committee. And then they had something called the Southern Negro Youth Conference or something. Anyway, the young southerners, the ones that she kind of adopted, she would have them to the White House you know and have them sleep in the best guest rooms. You can imagine the shock like a boy from Tennessee or Texas or country boy like Howard Lee who hadn't been out of Paris, Arkansas, sleeping in the White House. He got quite a thrill out of it, quite a shock. Tex Dobbs, whose family came from Texas, who was an awful good-looking, attractive boy but you know she'd take them to the . . . And then the young women too, she would pick them up and take them to the White House. But that all broke up, you know, the intimacy there I mean, having them to the White House and defending them before committees for being reds or radicals.
That all broke up on that day that Roosevelt—you know Woody Guthrie wrote a song about it called "Singing in the Rain." Have you ever heard that? Well, Woody Guthrie was a great friend of Pete Seegar's and he came out of Oklahoma, I believe. He was

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a kind of a natural, if you know what I mean. He was the sort of forerunner of the country music people. But he was really an absolute genius. You know his son is Arlo Guthrie. Now this is off the point, but this is political. You see when the Soviets and the Germans signed that peace pact, after Litvinov had failed at the United Nations to get the democracies, the Western democracies to unite with Russia against Hitler. You see this is all history that I lived through, and it was so familiar to me that I never know whether I make it plain to you. But Litvinov was both the foreign minister of Russia, and he was also the ambassador to America, and he was a Jew who had gone, fled to England and he married Ivy Lowe, who was the sister of the famous cartoonist David. Well, anyway the point was that his mission, his overwhelming mission for the Russians and for the new Russian revolution was to get them to join with Russia to fight Hitler, who had pledged to wipe them all out and reduce them to serfs, make the whole Slavic race the serfs of the Germans, who were born to be the rulers of the world and so on. But Litvinov was a rather short, fattish fellow, very intelligent. They used to have these great big Russian Embassy cocktail parties where everybody was invited. They were very protocol conscious. But they would sometimes have extra people along that Mrs. Litvinov had become very fond of and who were very on the left, you know, like Paul Robeson and some of the actors and actresses. I can remember seeing Robeson there. It all was very glamorous, you know. You'd get all dressed up and you'd go. And the Russians were extremely protocol conscious, and you were invited by rank. Because Cliff was on the FCC, he was an independent administrator, you know. And Cliff never would go unfortunately. Occasionally, very rarely he would go. Maybe to the British Embassy he would go, if we were invited there. But oh the agony he suffered at cocktail parties is beyond the realm of imagination. I just loved them, you know, flitting around from group to group. And he absolutely hated them. But the Russians did do it better than . . . Oh they would just put on the dog. They would have great swans carved in ice and the whole middle would be full of fresh caviar. Well people would go

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for the caviar whether they liked the Russians or not. You know this marvelous fresh Russian caviar. The greediness of people was just beyond belief. They'd eat enough caviar to full up a tank. I could never forget, one man that I met at the Russian Embassy, I was introduced to him and he had a beard and he spoke fairly good English. I should have remembered him; he was a rather a famous sort of United Nations figure, world diplomat of that time. Well that was the thing, where was he from? He was from Bulgaria, I believe. And I said well my usual southern chit-chat, oh you're from Bulgaria, well how fascinating, what part of Bulgaria are you from? Well he was from [unclear] . So you're a native? No, he wasn't a native of Bulgaria, he was a native of Montenegro, I believe, wherever that is. I don't know. I said, so you grew up in Monte . . . No, no I grew up in Athens. Finally by this time I'd given up. Here this southern instinct to place people, you know, to ask who their grandfather was and had they lived in Montenegro long. So finally he said, Madame, just say I am a salad. I am a salad, he said, like I come from every country. Anyway, the Russian parties were quite interesting because who would come, you see, when the relations were bad a third secretary would come from the State Department, some very lowly character, you know. And if relations were good, then the Secretary of State would come and all his entourage. So you could always judge the state of affairs by who the various countries sent. If they were on bad terms, they'd send somebody very lowly. At least, they very rarely just didn't send anybody. I mean, at least the threads were preserved. But the point was that Madame Litvinov would come out . . .
SUE THRASHER:
[Back to Woody Guthrie's song.]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, the thing was Russia had made a tremendous effort to get the Western democracies . . . they had done that in the Spanish War, you see, to get the democracies to fight Mussolini and Hitler in Spain. And of course I was telling you yesterday about the Spanish War. There are so many books written on the Spanish War. But the one by Ambassador Claude Bowers. Claude Bowers put him down; he wrote the best book from the American point of view. And he was the Ambassador to Spain and he wrote a book on Spain. Nobody seems

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to have heard of it ever but me, but it's a marvelous book. But he failed, you see, they refused to unite. In other words, the Poles wouldn't make a compact to let the Russians come through Poland to fight Germany if they had a compact. And then the Western democracies you know were scared to death of the Russians. They wouldn't join with them in Spain. And Hitler and Mussolini sent in hundreds and thousands of men and planes and defeated Spain. You've read all that in Hemingway even. Hemingway's book gives you a pretty good picture of that. That was the beginning, you see, of the war was in Spain where the Russians were fighting with the Spaniards, loyalist Spaniards, you see, of the Republic of Spain against Hitler and Mussolini. And of course the Spanish Officer Corps. But really they could have beaten them, if it hadn't been for all the planes and men that Hitler and Mussolini sent in. Well this was the beginning of Fascism you see, the Fascist regime. Well anyway, after Litvinov was defeated, I mean he never got the . . . You see the Russian line changed. The Russians you know are not very gentle about shifting gears. They threw out Litvinov and they put in Molotov. This was just before the war. The European War broke out in 1939, didn't it? Well it was just before the European War broke out, before they marched into Poland. I think that was '39. I believe it was. In any case, the war did break out. But before the war broke out the thing that split up things so was this pact between Russia and Germany, which we went into yesterday. The Soviet-Nazi pact, you see. Well this came as a great surprise, as you can imagine, because the whole burden of Hitler's wild rampant, raving speeches had been the menace of the Slavs, the Soviets and Communism. You see here was the Jewish, Communist conspiracy magnified to 10,000 degrees. So when he and the Russians signed this pact, it was the greatest shock. Like a bolt of lightning, a bolt out of the blue. Well, I not being any foreign policy expert, I thought from the very beginning the Russians were just buying some time. And I knew that . . . I thought they were just buying some time to get the country defended better.

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And hoping that Germany would turn on France and England. Well of course France and England were hoping Germany would turn on Russia. You see when the Soviet-Nazi pact was signed, they'd been having the united front—this was Litvinov's idea: it was for the democracies and Russia and the socialist countries or Communist countries to get together against Hitler. And you know it was the great period of the united front of everybody tryng to live together. Well, we keep going back to Litvinov's failure on the united front against Hitler. And one of the reasons that that failed—which I hate to say—one of the main reasons, which I hate to say was on account of the Catholic Church and Jim Farley and Cardinal Spellman. They were just fanatically opposed to Russia. And they didn't want to give any help to the Spanish Republic at all. You know, they were very powerful and they rallied all the Catholics. Then Jim Farley you know was still chairman of the party, the Democratic Party. Now I hate to sound anti-Catholic because I think the Catholic Church has moved forward a great deal, and it sounds like some of my Presbyterian Scotch blood, as they say. But really the Catholic Church did have a very powerful effect on the fact that we did not help the Spanish Republic. You see all those young men went over and were killed, like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Some of them are still around— [unclear] , he writes books. But you see Decca's husband Esmond had been in the British Brigade that had fought in Spain, so I was very involved in the Spanish War through the young Romoley's. I had been sympathetic, but when they came to live with us—she did and Esmond was there so much—I began to think of the Spanish War as the great lost opportunity, which in a way it was, to defeat fascism. Back at the White House. It broke up all the organizations, if you know what I mean, the Hitler-Stalin pact. It broke up all kind of organizations and people got had and wouldn't speak to each other and refused to sit in the same room and so and so. You know in the poll tax committee I would have to say now look we came here to see about getting rid of the poll tax and if you're going to fight about the Stalin pact, you're going to have to do it outside. Everywhere you sent it was dust one big row, you know. Well, now I was on the side—I wasn't on any actual side because I thought from the Russian standpoint, it was O.K. for them to do it. My God,

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Hitler'd been saying for twelve years he was going to come in there and smash them flat and make them Slav slaves and serfs of the Germans, who were the superior race. So from the Russian standpoint I thought it was fine. But from the American standpoint for the American radicals and Communists and liberals to all get worked up and say that America was an imperialist country and you know you could make peace with Hitler. I thought they'd all gone nuts. You know we used to have frightful fights too, even people I was very devoted to and fond of, like Joe Gelders. I'd go into froth or frenzy almost because to my mind it was just so crazy. You know here Hitler was looming up there . . . And a lot of these people were Jews. And for them to say that the Hitler-Stalin pact was a protection against the imperialist West, and so on. Well, I was in thorough disagreement with them in any case. And then of course Decca was living there, too, and she thought they were all crazy. And she would froth at the mouth and insult them in every way possible. Well I didn't do that, so much. Because some of them I was very fond of.
SUE THRASHER:
But the effect of that was to isolate the American Communist Party even more?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, it isolated it just terribly. And you see all these young people split up, all these young organizations that Mrs. Roosevelt had been nurturing, like the Young Southerners and the Southern Negro Youth Conference. They all split up. So they had this big meeting in Washington. The Stalin-Hitler pact was made I believe in the year '38.
SUE THRASHER:
In the beginning you talked about a meeting at the White House.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, the thing was that this was a meeting of all these young people Mrs. Roosevelt had nurtured. At the same time of the Hitler-Stalin pact. This was before the war, after Mr. Roosevelt said he had turned from Mr. New Deal to Mr. Win-the-War. And that's when he and Cliff and Abe and all were trying to get the aluminum manufactured, you know and the aircraft built, because they saw the war coming. So they had a big rally on the White House South . . . and Mr. Roosevelt came out with Mrs. Roosevelt and he gave them holy, unshaded hell. He called them . . . He said that for them to say that this Hitler-Stalin pact should be supported . . . It just created hell on earth.
SUE THRASHER:
Now who was at this meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
All these young people.
SUE THRASHER:
Invited there by Mrs. Roosevelt?

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VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Sure. Tex Dobbs was one of them. He was the head of one of those organizations called I think the Southern . . . He was a good-looking boy from Texas. I told you about Tex a million times. And Polly Dobbs. Polly was from Alabama. This is what makes the United States so curious because when the war was declared finally Tex became one of the great heroes of the war and had a battlefield decoration. I think became a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Anyway he became one of the heroes of the war. Then there's that boy from Arkansas, Howard Lee.
SUE THRASHER:
They were working in the Youth Organization of the Southern Conference?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, yes. I never knew exactly how close the ties were. Helen Fuller was always fooling with that. She was at the New Republic you know.
SUE THRASHER:
Now the Southern Negro Youth Conference was something different?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, but they were affiliated, or they had meetings together, they got on together. As I recall, this was the Southern Youth Congress or the Southern Youth Conference. And Mr. Roosevelt came out on the South Balcony and gave them unshaded hell. He told Mrs. Roosevelt not to have them in the house anymore. At that point she said that they had fooled her. That all the time she'd been so kind and nice to them and had them sleeping there at the White House, that they had been underground Communists and fooled her. And now that they had come out in their true lights, she repudiated them. And Mr. Roosevelt repudiated them. So Woody Guthrie wrote a song called "Singing in the Rain." Well it's one of his famous songs, "we were sitting, singing, standing on the White House lawn . . . " Woody Guthrie was on the left wing side. He was for the Stalin-Hitler pact, or something. Well, if you get an account of his songs, it's one of the most famous ones. Pete Seegar would know which one it was. I don't remember Pete being involved in all this. He would certainly know which one of Woody Guthrie's songs it was. I thing it was called "Standing in the Rain," not Singing in the Rain but Standing in the Rain. You see what I keep emphasizing is I knew all these people. When they were on my side that was fine but I never was involved to the point where . . . And we used to have these raging conflicts and fights, but I never got so mad at them that I wouldn't let them spend the night if they didn't have a place to stay, and

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eat with us. And Cliff would get mad at them too, you know. Because here he was just working day and night trying to get the country ready for the war. And he thought these young people had been terribly misled. This is what bothers me about the present youth that you tell me about is that these kids, these young people, have that same sense of disillusionment about their own country. The New Deal hadn't filled them with hope and glory. I mean going out in the woods with the CPC and the NYA. They still felt that the country was not their country. In other words, the capitalists owned it. And they'd gotten radicalized. They were not violent at all. They took it all out in fighting each other, and having different organizations and accusing people of being Trotskyites and Lovestoneites. But it's very much like today. I mean, they didn't have that faith. But you see this generation that I'm salking about, Tex Dobbs and Howard Lee and Alton Lawrence, these young southerners. When the war finally did break out, all of them went off to war and fought, they didn't escape to Canada or go to Mexico. They believed in this war finally, you see, particularly after they attacked Russia. And they thought Russia, you see, was in danger. You see in my lifetime I had seen—I used to go to revival meetings, you know, when I was young, like Bob Jones and Billy Sunday. I never did believe in them very much. They were things to go to and that's where everybody was.
SUE THRASHER:
Entertainment?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I went for entertainment more than spiritual refreshment, because I never believed these big red sweating men up on the platform, you know, who were always begging for money were going to get me to heaven. But it was the thing to do. Didn't you go to revivals? Aubrey Williams was brought up on revival meetings. He used to say that he'd always figure a baby from the time of the revival meeting, because everybody would get filled with the spirit of the Lord, you know, and get transported into these great, tremendous storms of emotion. And then it was always so surprising that nine months afterwards, there was just this great crop of babies appeared. You see he'd come up in the age of revivals. Well, my mother-in-law was a Methodist. And she used to tell me about the great Methodist

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revivals. They would camp, you know, take tents and camp out for a week or two at a time. The point was at this point, which I think is 1938, as I recall, I think at that point there was a break between Mrs. Roosevelt and her young group. Her husband had repudiated them; she repudiated them. And the Communist Party of the United States was regarded as having allied itself with Russia, I mean with Hitler. And it was generally hell to pay on all sides. But although it affected me in the way of arguing and having worries about keeping the poll tax committee from launching off into these destructive fights, which they were already getting in. See, I had a narrow mind. I was still stuck on the . . . And then I was just passionately for England and passionately against Hitler and passionately for getting in the war. And you know Decca was living there with me, as I say. And of course she was even more passionate than I was since her husband was fighting. So there was never any doubt of where I stood.
Cliff, you see, was working day and night on this defense plant thing, trying to get the country ready for war. And he had thought of this idea of the government you know building the plants—it was his idea that they got through Congress—the government would build the plants and then lease them to MacDonald Aircraft or Lockheed, or whatever, who would make the airplanes at a certain percentage. The title stayed in the government hands. They would build the great big aluminum plant, say, for Kaiser or for Reynolds. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And Reynolds would come in . . . They had a tremendous need for aluminum you see because the airplanes had to be built of aluminum, and malibdinum. They would come in and run them and they would be paid a certain percentage, a fixed fee, and then after the war was over, the government owned these plants. Well, after the war was over, Truman came in you see, and Eisenhower. They all just gave the plants to whoever was running them. The government had paid for them, maybe they paid a few cents on the dollar, but they just turned them over because they didn't believe in any kind of government ownership at all you see. So all those great plants you see were just turned over to the people who were operating them, although

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they hadn't paid for them at all. Well the thing was, Roosevelt, Ickes, Cliff, Abe Fortas, Tex Goldschmidt, all these people . . . You've got to remember that Jesse Jones even thought you could do business with Hitler. There was a very strong isolationist sentiment in the country, you know. I told you about Wheeler, Burton K. Wheeler from Montana. And then there was the Liberty League you know. There were all kinds of these isolationist organizations. And there were all kind of German organizations, Bund and so on. And then there was the Catholic Church. It was extremely powerful against going to war. So Cliff thought up this idea. And the industrialists you see were afraid to invest all these hundreds of millions of dollars in the plant to build airplanes and to make aluminum and to make synthetic rubber because maybe we wouldn't have a war. There was such a going back and forth, so much argument going on. So they just were scared to invest their money to get the country ready for war when we might not have a war and then all that would be just wasted money. So to get them over being so scared—and they didn't even want the money lent to them, they were just literally frightened to. This way the government took the risk out of it. They build the plant and they ran the plant, but they didn't have to put their own money into the plant. This is the famous defense plan that the young boy from Harvard wants to write about. The one that Abe Fortas made the speech about up at Cliff's memorial, you know, about how he thought this really saved the free world because we did get the airplanes built and we did get the industries geared. And so when the war finally hit we had tanks and airplanes and all the stuff we could send to the Allies. There's a man out in California named Gerald White that's writing a book on it. It's what they're going in England now in a way. When capitalism is scared of investing its own money, the government invests the money, the tax money, and then the industries run them, because they've got the know-how. And they also get the profits. It's a kind of inverse socialism, if you know what I mean. Anyway, Cliff was as busy as he could be. Then you see, in 1939 Russia finally invaded . . . They had the phony war, you know, England and France were at war with Germany, but nothing much went on for a long time. And then they marched into Poland, and hell broke loose.

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The great Second World War started. And I must say that I do think that Abe and Cliff and Tex and Ickes and Roosevelt were right, because when the war started, the United States was geared up you see, to produce all these things for the war.
And then during the war, you see, the relationships with Russia were pretty close. They'd have big concerts—Russian and American concerts to raise money for the wounded or the Red Cross. And people like Mrs. Daisy Harriman and Mrs. Eisenhower would be chairman. And you can imagine. They would have Constitution Hall draped with the red flag and the U.S. flag. The Russians would sing and dance, and the Americans would sing and dance. All these fashionable people. So during the war Russia was very popular and quite fashionable. And Mrs.—the one that was so rich and had so many husbands, you know, the Post Toasties lady; she was the heiress of the Post Toasties. She had an enormous house and she'd been married a whole lot of times. Her husband got to be ambassador to Russia. Mrs. Margerie Post Toast . . . Mrs. Margerie Post, she was. You never heard of her? Good God Almighty! She had a daughter who was an actress was very pretty, I can't remember her name either. But anyway she would open her house to Russian-American things. I was invited once to be an aide or usher at some big Russian-American thing. Oh, Russia got to be very popular. I forget who the Ambassador was at that time. Maybe it was still Litvinov, but I doubt it. That was during the fighting, you know. And then you see the war was over, we had defeated Hitler. And then the Russians and the Americans met on the Elbe and shook hands. This was going to be a whole new day. Russia was going to become democratic, and American was going to become at least much more socialistic than it had been. But in the meantime, you see, the great moment of triumph came after Roosevelt died. But it was his death that really marked the end of the New Deal, if you know what I mean. And I can remember the day of . . . Of course I went into town, we went into town to see the funeral cortege—took the children. People were just lining the streets by the thousands and thousands all of them just dissolved into tears. And then he lay in state as I remember at the Capitol. And then he was buried up in Hyde Park.
SUE THRASHER:
Were you and Cliff personally distraught

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over his death?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well we were as the President, but we were not distraught on a personal basis, because we'd never known him that well. In fact we'd only met him, you know, at big parties. We never were part of the White House entourage you see. We admired him as president. But he gave you a feeling of safety, which I've been trying to . . . You know as long as Roosevelt was there you felt like something was going to get done and things were going to be O.K. You had a mighty champion on your side. So then Truman came in and Cliff had known Truman fairly well because Truman was investigating some of the war industries to see if they were making too much money or grafting at all. He thought Truman was a nice little fellow, and smart, pretty smart. But he got on with Truman very well you know. It was only the loyalty order that broke him up with Truman, because he thought Truman was a nice little fellow, and he liked him. Anyway the war was over. So then here we were.
Cliff was on the FCC. It was during that period, of the war, that he made the great fight for the educational TV. You see they couldn't build any radio, couldn't use the steel and material to build any radio towers. And FM had been invented, which is high fidelity, you know. So he was able to get through, this section set aside of ultra high frequency for the educational TV system, which he did. And that was a big fight, too, but that's his book. He got it done. Mostly on the TV the first things they had were women fighting in mud. It's the truth; you never would believe it. See, industry gave Cliff an early TV set because he was on the FCC. They weren't for sale then, but they wanted him to watch the progress of it. And they had Mr. Howdy Doody on there, which the children adored—kind of like Sesame Street, you know. But the main thing was that they used to have women wrestlers wrestling in mud. Don't ask me why that attracted people, but they did. We had people over; you see it was an absolutely new thing you know and the neighbors would come rushing over you know and the main entertainment was women wrestling in mud. It was the craziest thing you've ever seen in your life. And then they'd have some little news on there. It was a pretty . . . The first TV was pretty awful. But one of the things that happened during that period was, once again, the TV people had lobbyists. And they were

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always inviting you, me, to lunch particularly, having dinners and luncheons, you know, and all kinds of wooing the people on the FCC and then the Congress. Ah, the boredom. It seems to me that the big shots in the TV industry and the radio industry always married, always did away with their faithful old wives and married their secretaries, because the young women who were the hostesses of these men who were the big shots and who were the executives were always silly little girls who didn't know from nothing. They would have a great big elaborate lunch at the Mayflower, you know, with all these people there, this diverse group of people. They were just frightfully, frightfully boring. And so there again I told Cliff, asked him if his future depended on my going to these luncheons, and he said no, so I was relieved of that. I would say I was having children or somebody had a cold. I often wondered why it was [unclear] why these, married such silly little girls. They were the secretaries. Of course they were pretty.
[text missing]
END OF INTERVIEW